Ogamdo: Crossing a Cultural Highway between Korea and the UAE
By Ji Young Kim
Published on October 22, 2020
In a world where we are physically restricted from moving from one place to another and unable to travel the way we used to, Ogamdo: 5 scenes of Korean Art exhibition brings Korea to the UAE.
I was first attracted to this exhibition because I was excited and proud to see a solo exhibition of Korean Contemporary Art in the UAE, a place so far from Korea. Ogamdo: 5 scenes of Korean Art was advertised as an exhibition to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Korea-UAE diplomatic relations. After I viewed the exhibition, however, I realized that my emotions were more complex than a feeling of pride. What the exhibition tried to achieve was more than a simple political celebration of two countries.
What the exhibition tried to achieve was more than a simple political celebration of two countries.
As a Korean citizen, I have always thought of Korea as a strange yet beautiful place, where the past and the present are intertwined not only in the urban structure of the city but also socially. Koreans have an eye on the future yet a tight grasp on its routes. In the rapidly changing urban landscape and social culture of Korea influenced by globalization, however, I always struggled to understand what “Korean-ness” truly meant. Ogamdo: 5 scenes of Korean Art is an exhibition which attempts to reveal the multifaceted nature of the Korean sentiment.
Ogamdo: 5 scenes of Korean Art is an exhibition which attempts to reveal the multifaceted nature of the Korean sentiment.
The questioning of self-identity is not only felt by Koreans. It is a universal sentiment that could be felt by anyone living in a fast-paced society. This is a sentiment that can be felt by Emiratis in the UAE, a country established only in 1971, a country that is only as old as my mother. In less than a generation, the UAE acquired great geopolitical and economic power in the Middle East. In an ever changing society, it is inevitable for people to be confounded with an identity changing as fast as their surroundings. The exhibition creates a cultural highway between Korea and the UAE, finding commonalities in previously unexplored aspects of each culture.
Ogamdo unfolds this sentiment through five different perspectives: “New Traditions”, “City Montage”, “Reconstruction of Culture”, “Everyday Affair” and “Landscape through the Mind’s Eye”. These five elements are designed to reflect on the development of our fast growing society where the old and new meet and are molded to create a new identity. They are structured to show the complex relationship between urban change and artistic expression, and their dependence on emotions rooted in the past, and aspirations of the future.
The exhibition creates a cultural highway between Korea and the UAE, finding commonalities in previously unexplored aspects of each culture.
I think many people would be surprised to know how similar Korean and UAE culture can be. Seoul to Abu Dhabi may be 6899 km away with different language, looks, and food, but our traditional beliefs have a lot in common.
Let’s take a look at Buchimgae Party (2019) by Lee Woosung.
Displayed in Scene 4: Everyday Affair, Buchimgae Party is 210cm long four-width painting on fabric, showing a group of people sitting around eating and drinking together, a very typical look that you see in any type of social gathering in Korea. Buchimgae, best explained as Korean pancake, is prepared in traditional ceremonies or feast.
We can find this type of gathering in the UAE. Jummah gatherings happen after Friday prayers where all family members gather together at the house of the eldest member of the family. This gathering is where family members sit around the floor to share the food prepared by the host family or sometimes cooked together by the members of the family to be eaten together.
In both settings, we gather, not only to eat but also to socialize, catch up with one another, and sometimes to get bothered by our family members. We always have that uncle who wants to know everything about your life, that aunt who asks when you’ll get married and grandma who continuously feeds you until you pass out. It is a chaotic scene, yet wholesome as these gatherings are where you meet all your family members to cook and eat together. While the type of food cooked and shared may be different between Korea and the UAE, the principle of gathering remains the same.
While the type of food cooked and shared may be different between Korea and the UAE, the principle of gathering remains the same.
Unfortunately, this is an ambience that we have been restricted from by Covid-19. Sparking feelings of nostalgia towards the times when physical interaction was a norm, the exhibition shows how our lifestyle is never stagnant and makes us reflect on how we used to take social relationships for granted. Life will sometimes not go by the way we planned or imagined it to go.
Interestingly the story of how this virtual exhibition emerged also exemplifies this message. Ogamdo was initially planned as an in-person exhibition. When the exhibition was selected as part of the “Traveling Korean Art” Program by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), project leaders, curator and artists were all very optimistic about the exhibition in Manarat Al Saadiyat as Covid-19’s impact was very minimal in both Korea and the UAE at the time.
Ogamdo was initially planned as an in-person exhibition.
Then March came around with spiking cases of the new pandemic. Caiya Kang, the Team Leader of Cultural Exchange and Planning Team of KOFICE, says they even considered postponing the exhibition as they could no longer fly in the artworks due to travel restrictions. Tonghyun [Tony] Yu, the exhibition curator, suggested a hybrid form of the art exhibition, “a desperate countermeasure” as he describes in Korean, to overcome and adapt to the new society the pandemic had created.
Completely switching a fully curated in-person exhibition to a Virtual Reality (VR) system was definitely a bold move. However, with the message Yu attempts to express through this work is reflected on this brave and spontaneous decision he has made to showcase Contemporary Korean Art to the international community.
Tony Yu, the exhibition curator, suggested a hybrid form of the art exhibition, “a desperate countermeasure” as he describes in Korean, to overcome and adapt to the new society the pandemic had created.
My experience with VR was definitely not an easy one. I am a type of person who needs to be in a specific mind-set to enjoy art and this usually gets achieved by being physically present in the space. Trying to view art through a screen felt quite foreign to me, at times a bit distracting. However, without this system, I would not have been able to see the exhibition as I do not live in Abu Dhabi, where the exhibition was supposed to be presented in. The exhibition may not even have taken place until next year.
Yu shared his thoughts on curating virtually: “Even though the medium has changed, the essence of the exhibition remains the same. The senses are still stimulated and so is the mind. Our virtual means are just one way to share the vibrancy of our artists’ work. Through the virtual world, we have found a new way to communicate and connect to a broader audience and to explore new ways to get closer to them.” Art is ever changing. There is no reason why our means of sharing it should remain the same.
“Through the virtual world, we have found a new way to communicate and connect to a broader audience and to explore new ways to get closer to them.”
- Tony Yu
As our world is forced to become more digitized, we realized that the world is becoming smaller and smaller. The 6899km distance can be shortened with a click of a button, where I, living in Ras Al Khaimah, the very north of the UAE, can enjoy art curated inside Manarat Al Saadiyat, which was actually displayed in Paju, Korea. And this is the whole purpose of Ogamdo: first, from an artistic perspective, to introduce Contemporary Korean Art to a foreign country and second, from a cultural perspective, to show multifaceted expressions of Korean Identity. Lastly and most importantly, Ogamdo is a testament to our ability to adapt and grow from unpredictable challenges, which then affects the way in which we view our life and identify ourselves in this new environment.
Ogamdo: 5 scenes of Korean Art
18 August - 30 November, 2020
Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi
Participating Artists: Gim Duk-Hoon, Kim Byung-hoon, Kwon Nam-Hee, Kwon Hyun-Bin, An Gyung-Su, Kim Eun-Hyung, Baek Heaven, Cho Jai-Young, Sunny Kim, Yoo Geun-Taek, Lee Woo-Sun, Kim Seung-Young, Park So-Young, Sen Chung
Curated by A-Lounge
The exhibition was organized as part of the Traveling Korean Arts (TKA) for the 2020 Year of Korea-UAE Cultural Dialogue in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Korea and the Ministry of Culture and Youth in the UAE.
Visit the full VR exhibition online until November 30, 2020.
Visit the KOFICE’s website.
Follow UAE’s Ministry of Youth and Culture Instagram.
Ji Young Kim is a NYU Abu Dhabi graduate from South Korea (NYUAD ’20). While she is a Korean citizen, she spent most of her adolescent life in the Philippines and moved to the UAE in 2016 to pursue her undergraduate studies. Ji Young graduated with a B.A. in Arab Crossroads Studies from NYUAD where she studied the Arabic language and conducted research on development of Emirati youth subcultures in Abu Dhabi. Currently, she is working in in Ras Al Khaimah as an Events Specialist, responsible for organizing and executing events that foster community engagement and cultural development in Ras Al Khaimah and beyond.
Many thanks to KOFICE, Caiya Kang, and Tony Yu.