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Painter Yun Suk-nam calls out to souls of forgotten female activists

Installation view of “Women of Resistance, Becoming Historic -- Portraits of 14 Female Independence Activists Who Quaked History” (Hakgojae Gallery)
Installation view of “Women of Resistance, Becoming Historic -- Portraits of 14 Female Independence Activists Who Quaked History” (Hakgojae Gallery)
Painter Yun Suk-nam, who has dedicated her career to creating art advocating women’s rights, is showcasing new portraits of female independence activists during the Japanese colonial era who have long been neglected by historians because of their gender.

The portraits of the female activists are on display at the exhibition titled “Women of Resistance, Becoming Historic -- Portraits of 14 Female Independence Activists Who Quaked History” at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul. 
Pilot Kwon Ki-ok (Hakgojae Gallery)
Pilot Kwon Ki-ok (Hakgojae Gallery)
Each artwork shows a pencil drawing and acrylic painting of each activist. The showcase of Yun’s 50 works includes an installation titled “Red Room,” which pays homage to the women who sacrificed their lives for their country’s independence with peaked wooden boards that show the faces of the women.

The 81-year-old artist has been dubbed the “Godmother of South Korean feminist art.” Although she started her career as western-style painter, she changed her style in 2011, leaning more toward eastern painting after encountering “The Self-portrait” by Yun Du-seo, a scholarly painter from the Joseon era at the National Museum of Korea. She recalls being fascinated by the mood of the painting, realizing paintings could stir and awaken one’s soul.

The exhibition was in collaboration with novelist Kim E-kyung who researched about female activists because there is little information about them. Kim’s novel about the female independence activists was published by Hanibook, which coincided with the exhibition.

“I was young, but my fight against Japanese Imperialism was unconditional. I was not afraid of prison nor even death. It was truly heartbreaking that I was still young and a woman. This was when I decided to become a pilot who can fly in the skies and easily demolish the Japs,” said pilot Kwon Ki-ok who was among the female activists in the interview in 1961.

“It’s really touching to think how the women at the time sacrificed for the country when they were not treated well in the society due to her gender,” Yun said. 

Nam Ja-hyeon (Hakgojae Gallery)
Nam Ja-hyeon (Hakgojae Gallery)
The works, which feature women with big and clumpy hands, were intentional, the artist said.

“I think one’s hands represent the subjects. I like the power that the hands contain in the paintings,” she added.

The exhibition runs until April 3. The gallery’s online viewing room, OROOM -- which was launched in October last year to strengthen the gallery’s digital platform in the aftermath of the pandemic -- showcases 54 artworks including those that were unable to be put on display due to the limited gallery space.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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