old korea exhibit

Visitors admiring the artwork in Wellington B. Gray Gallery.

The Jenkins Arts Center is featuring a new exhibit called “Old Korea: From the Eyes of Four Western Artists,” from Aug. 26 to Oct. 1 to promote diversity and invoke conversations about stereotypical perspectives in four different galleries in Greenville, North Carolina.

The art pieces are split up into four different locations, however, most are located in the Wellington B. Gray Gallery. The Gray Gallery Preparator Maria Modlin said there are about 80 pieces of art in total.

In the exhibit, four artists are presented: Writer and Printmaker Elizabeth Keith, Painter and Printmaker Lilian Miller, Printmaker Paul Jacoulet and Actor and Printmaker Willy Seiler. Modlin said their artwork depicts the daily lives and culture of Koreans from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.

“I think it’s a good exhibit, not just for the artistic value but the historical value of what it’s documenting,” Modlin said.

Exhibit Curator and Associate Professor in Art Education Borim Song said the exhibition started featuring just Elizabeth Keith’s art pieces but one of the collectors of the artwork, Young-Dahl Song, wanted to expand the exhibit to include more artists. Song said Young-Dahl Song believed incorporating the art pieces of all four artists would open and strengthen a different perspective and art style for others to see.

The exhibit, Song said, is a response to Asian hate crimes. Song said the goal was to suggest how to do better with multicultural education by approaching and using visual arts as a tool for social justice. This would better help with the present social justice issues happening in the states right now, Song said.

“For example, Elizabeth Keith did paintings, and you can see how attentive Keith is when highlighting the beauty of simplicity in the Korean style; her work is very fresh,” Song said.

As for art educators, they know it’s crucial to incorporate diversity into the curriculum, Song said, however, it’s difficult if there is a limited cultural experience.

Song said through the presented artists, people will be able to see the compassion, respect, and attentiveness they have for Korean culture.

“We wanted to show the western artists’ open-mindedness to accept differences and other people's cultures,” Song said.

The other exhibit curator and Associate Professor in Communication, Jin-Ae Kang, said she was very disturbed by the recent social injustice acts happening to Asian individuals in the states. Kang said she began looking for ways to elevate Asian voices and found a book written by Keith on one of her friend’s bookshelf and the idea for the exhibit was born, Kang said.

What can be seen in these artworks, Kang said, is how the western artists conceptualized Korean people in the mid-20th century. She said she hoped the exhibition would create a conversation about the many cultures here in the Greenville area and the East Carolina University community.

“How do we see people who have different looks and cultures from us? Do we accept them as human beings or do we have certain filters that only allow us to see them through a stereotypical perspective,” Kang said.

The perspectives of how Koreans were seen in the mid-20th century, Kang said, might not seem relevant. Kang said answering those questions as to how we perceive each other connects us to the same context 100 years ago.

Among the artists presented at the exhibition, Kang said she personally loved the way Keith observed Korean people. She said Keith did her best to give the spotlight to the Korean people as they simply lived their lives.

“Korea was in a difficult situation with Japanese colonialism and Keith as a foreigner could still see the value of the Korean tradition in a very sympathetic way,” Kang said.

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