Sunday, 25 October 2009

Colorful Korean Embroidery Bring Its Meaningful Lesson in Museum Nasional, Jakarta

Two years ago when I was invited by OhMyNews to come for its International Citizen Reporters’ Forum in Seoul, I have the good chance to visit Indonesian heritage in the National Museum of Korea. I wrote about that experience in the Jakarta Post, one of our local English newspapers. I have visited that beautiful modern museum and also other several traditional buildings. I was also enchanted to see how modernization in Seoul gets along with the existence of the old buildings and traditions. I mentioned it in another article for Tabloid Rumah in its architecture travel’s column. But back then, I did not really put my interest in Korean embroidery. Now, far away from Seoul I’ve got the experience of admiring colorful Korean embroidery and the meaningful lesson of preserving the intangible cultural heritage through the Korean Embroidery Exhibition in Indonesia’s National Museum in Jakarta.

The Korean Embroidery Exhibition is offering its colorful and beautiful embroidery exhibits from October 13 to October 18, 2009. As a part of the Korean Cultural Week in Jakarta, it offers around one hundred enchanting exhibits and also a demonstration of how to make those beautiful Korean embroidery. South Korean Ambassador, Kim Ho-young, before opening the exhibition introduced the curator of the exhibition, Han Sang-soo, who is also the founder of The Han Sang Soo Embroidery Museum in Seoul. The ambassador praised Han Sang-soo dedication in keeping the art of Korean embroidery alive.

In the written profile there is an additional information under her name: “Important Intangible Cultural assets No. 80 Master of Embroidery (Jasujang)”. While preparing an article for, an Indonesian local citizen journalism website, I learnt from UNESCO’s site that those who gained such a honorary title should share their valuable knowledge with younger generation by teaching them to master the art of traditional technique and at the same moment developing the cultural heritage by creating new motifs.

In one of her interviews with professional journalists, I heard Han Sang-soo praised the government’s effort to help preserving and developing the traditional cultural heritage. I think the way the Korean government tracked down their intangible cultural heritage, and gave special acknowledgement to the artists who help preserving and developing it is a very good example. Yet, the responsibility of a master like Han Sang-soo to trained students is something that is really thrilled me. As the information I gained from UNESCO’s site, this responsibility comes together with incentives. That way, those who are helping to do researches and developing intangible cultural heritage could have their full concentration on serving better contribution for the development of traditional heritage.

Embroidery was first introduced to Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) in the time of King Kojong. Coming from Persia, crossing India and China, it became known for the survival works mostly from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It was generally known as royal court embroidery.

From the brochure given in the exhibition, we can gather information that the essence of the art of embroidery is not relied on its final presentation, but it is actually exists in the process of doing it. The artisan should be patient enough to concentrate on providing that beautiful design. It is inviting us, who live in the age when speed is the yardstick for judging things, to stop for a moment to reflect on the beauty of living at a slower pace. And, it is true…those colorful and beautiful designs are offering the peace they were sewn within.

In all hand-made arts; including Indonesian’s batik, tenun (weaving), or tenun ikat (tieing weaving) and songket, the process took longer time than needed by machine’s production. While actually the spirit of the beauty is within the process of being, it also raised its production cost. Therefore traditional clothes need to struggle to survive the market competition. Learning how it is done, the way Han Sang-soo’s master students showed visitors in their demonstration can give a better perspective of that “hidden spirit”.

On October 2, 2009, Indonesians rejoiced UNESCO`s decision to include batik in its list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity". While proudly wearing batik, some of Indonesians are not aware on how to distinguish the batik (which used the genuine process of batik) from the printed batik (only using the motifs). A contributor in mentioned this fact, and reminded others on how to preserve the existence of batik artisans.

Seeing the demonstration of making Korean embroidery in Museum Nasional made me realized how important it is to keep educating younger generations. I’ve seen that Han Sang-soo’s students who participate in the demonstrating the process of embroidery come from three generations. It is important to make sure that those who mastered the skill to hand down the quality that she/he mastered to younger generations. Then, to help others to see the beauty of the artistic process will help to keep the existence of markets.

The Korean Embroidery Exhibition is not only giving me the pleasure to see those beautiful colorful collections of Han Sang-soo, but it is also reminding me of how important to keep the spirit alive in generations to come.

Note: this article stayed in Saengnamu section in OMNI. The internet connection and OMNI section made me difficult in uploading photos there. When I used Speedy then my billing went up high as I reload several times. So, citizen journalism is not only working without financial reward, it's also a kind of volunteer work. (30th-10-2009: Edited version is already in OMNI's Art and Life Column, yet it has wrong photo caption; my fault, see

My favourite is this one (oups, it's not the embroidery...:))

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