The Korea Herald


UNESCO heritage list expected to add Korean mask dance drama

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : Nov. 1, 2022 - 14:45

    • Link copied

Talchum, Korean mask dance drama (CHA) Talchum, Korean mask dance drama (CHA)

Talchum, the traditional Korean mask dance, has been recommended by the UNESCO Evaluation Body to be inscribed into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to a nomination review report from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee.

Of the 46 applications received, the body has recommended 31, including talchum.

The final decision for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity will be made at the 17th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which will be held in Morocco from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3.

The committee is expected to go over collate files that explain the social functions and cultural meanings of each nominee as well as ongoing efforts to address the risks of over-commercialization.

Defined as a performing art that encompasses dance, music, and theater, talchum is manifested through the oral traditions, social practices and the Korean traditional craftsmanship of the masks.

Portraying everyday characters in the acts, talchum has an underlying storytelling appeal that keeps audiences laughing while simultaneously criticizing the social hierarchy and hypocrisy of the ruling class with its satirical elements.

Any empty location can serve as a venue for talchum, where audiences can freely engage with performers by shouting out their cheers and comments as the drama unfolds.

The subpanel body noted positively of the fact that consistent efforts have been made in relevant communities to preserve the authenticity and traditional values of the art form, with 18 officially recognized talchum safeguarding associations and extensive documentation carried out by researchers.

There are 18 different kinds of Korean mask dance dramas, with as many unique acts and mask designs, each playing a crucial role in the nation’s festivals. Thirteen versions are classified as National Intangible Cultural Heritage, while five others are either city or provincial intangible cultural heritage.

Talchum, Korean mask dance drama (CHA) Talchum, Korean mask dance drama (CHA)

The Cultural Heritage Administration has applied for the enlistment of talchum to the list of UNESCO intangible cultural heritage on March 2020.

According to the UNESCO's report, the nomination file highlighted that inscription of the element will raise awareness of intangible cultural heritage in general at the local, national and international levels.

South Korea currently has 21 entries on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage lists. Talchum will be placed as the 22nd on the nation's list, if the decision is finalized.

Ssireum, or traditional Korean wrestling was inscribed in 2018, by joint efforts of South and North Korea.

Meanwhile, North Korea's Pyongyang raengmyon (cold noodle) custom has also been recommended for inscription on the list the same day, which makes it the fourth on the UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage lists for the country, if it succeeds.