Although not entirely traditional, K-pop sensation BTS featured the Korean folk dance known as Bukcheong Lion Play, in the music video for their track “IDOL” (2018). Traditional choreography requires dancers to wear lion masks on the night of the full moon on January 15 of the lunar calendar.
At the Melon Music Awards on December 1, 2018, the members went a step further and performed an array of traditional Korean dances for a live audience, which included another folk dance known as Bongsan Mask Dance.
Thanks to young K-pop artists’ enthusiasm for traditional folk dances, a young generation of K-pop fans at home and abroad are beginning to take an interest in Korean folklore.
The National Folk Museum of Korea said it has seen an increase in the number of young visitors to its central Seoul museum since BTS’ Melon Music Awards performance, which led museum curators to reflect on how close folklore really is to our lives. and that “people just aren’t aware of it”.
The museum decided to hold an exhibition called “Folklore is our life”, which opened in the museum’s special exhibition hall on April 27.
The exhibition begins with a question: “Is this also folklore?
“These days people like to collect old things from the 1970s and 1980s calling them ‘retro’. This fashion offers nostalgia to those who lived through the era and novelty to those who did not. It is also folklore and the museum, which is an archive of memory, tries to display an array of old items such as portable cassette players, an old computer, a film camera, etc. said Kim Hyong-joo, the exhibit’s curator. “We hope to explore the meaning and value of folklore by presenting various forms of our lives in the traditional past, in the present and in the future.”
The exhibit also features a photograph of the traditional Bukcheong lion game and Bongsan mask dance from 90 years ago. The photographs are part of 486 “Folklore Fieldwork” photographs taken and collected by the first Korean archivist and folklorist Song Seok-ha (1904-1948) during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-45).
Various issues of the Korean academic journal called “Joseonminsok”, which was published from 1932 to 1940 as a means of collecting data on Korean folklore, are also on display. One issue states that a society was organized to publish this journal out of fear that “Korea’s traditional way of life will disappear and to emphasize the importance of collecting folklore data.”
There are several folk items that foreigners will also experience at the exhibition. Gun, the hat representative of the Joseon era (1392-1910) has been attracting a lot of attention since the Netflix series “Kingdom” (2019-). The wide-brimmed hats worn by almost every man who appears on the show were real scene stealers. The exhibit features gat in many different shapes and colors.
Fans of another of Netflix’s hit shows, “Squid Game” (2021), will be amused by the traditional Dalgona (melted candy sugar). The one on display was widely used in the 20th century and is much larger than those sold today.
Passionate gardeners know my friend. Traditional Korean hoes are selling like hotcakes on the Amazon online shopping platform. Because they are still widely used today, some find it difficult to consider them to be items of folklore. The museum said it hoped to break that prejudice through the exhibit. “Our lives are folklore,” Kim said. “Popular beliefs, entertainment, rituals and other traditions are still the main subjects of folk studies. We hope that visitors will be able to see that folklore is not only about the past, but also about our lives as they unfold in the present through this exhibition.
The exhibition lasts until July 5.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]