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Dior sparks outrage over photo for 'demeaning Korean women'

An artwork displayed by French luxury house Dior at its flagship store in Seoul has sparked public outrage, fueled by claims that it portrays Korean women as materialistic and morally loose.

The controversial piece -- artist Lee Wan’s “Korean Woman” -- depicts a young woman with a pink Lady Dior bag standing in a backstreet of an unidentified adult entertainment district filled with signs advertising “room salons,” or hostess bars.

The contrasting image of the Korean woman with Dior’s signature bag in the dark alley implies that she sells herself in bars to possess the luxury good, wrote culture critic Ha Jae-keun on the growing public criticism over the luxury house.
Lee Wan‘s “Korean Woman“ (YouTube)
Lee Wan‘s “Korean Woman“ (YouTube)

Dior’s exhibition went viral on the Internet, provoking a storm of criticism on the luxury house’s intention for displaying the controversial artwork.

“Dior is saying that all Korean women are bargirls who only care about buying bags,” wrote one online commenter.

In an apparent move to fend off the criticism, Dior’s Seoul office offered a public apology Tuesday, announcing that it would no longer be showing the photograph “Korean Woman” in the exhibition.

“We sincerely apologize for the controversy surrounding Lee Wan’s piece in the ‘Lady Dior As Seen By’ exhibition,” Dior said in a press release.

A representative from Dior could not be reached by phone for further comment.

The composite photograph was part of the traveling exhibition “Lady Dior as Seen By” currently open at the House of Dior flagship in Seoul.

The exhibition invites contemporary artists to create works showing how they see the Lady Dior bag.

Ha wrote on his blog that the photo was a “reflection of the misogyny that dominates in Korean society.”

According to him, the photo was “in the same vein” as the online trolls who disparaged Korean women as “kimchi-nyeo” -- women who sell sex or use their sexuality as a weapon to feed their materialism.

In an interview with Dior ahead of the exhibition, artist Lee Wan said that he used composite photography in order to highlight the “symbolic significance” of the work rather than its aesthetics. However, it is unclear from his statements what he intended as that significance.

“Dior’s design products are created in a completely different way from the capitalistic production process, which focuses on efficiency,” Lee said in the interview. “I thought about how that quality was valued today, how it was consumed in Korea.”

The “Lady Dior as Seen By” exhibition has been on display at the House of Dior flagship since late February after touring cities such as Dusseldorf, Milan, Tokyo and Shanghai.

By Won Ho-jung