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South Korea applies for Korean mask dance drama talchum’s UNESCO listing

Gasan Ogwangdae, a Korean mask dance drama talchum (Cultural Heritage Administration)
Gasan Ogwangdae, a Korean mask dance drama talchum (Cultural Heritage Administration)

The Cultural Heritage Administration on Wednesday announced that it had applied for the addition of Talchum, Mask Dance Drama in the Republic of Korea to the list of UNESCO intangible cultural heritage on Tuesday.

The decision on the listing will be made in December 2022, after UNESCO reviews and evaluates the application’s technical completeness and the value of the heritage.

Talchum is a performing art that encompasses dance, music, and theater.

There are 18 different kinds of Korean mask dance dramas, including Bongsan Talchum, Hahoe Byeolsingut Talnori and Bukcheong Saja Noreum. Each type has its unique acts and masks worn by the performers. All 18 talchum performances are listed as either national or provincial intangible cultural heritage.

A Korean mask dance drama does not require a formal stage and can be performed outdoors while surrounded by an audience. The audience’s reactions are considered part of the performance so the performers actively interact with the people watching.

Many talchum performances are satires that highlight the hypocrisy and arrogance of the ruling class and people’s sufferings under them in pre-modern society. Although most talchum deal with serious themes, they are presented with humorous elements. Also, talchum stories usually end with a reconciliatory dance with all actors participating to emphasize harmony and reconciliation.

The Cultural Heritage Administration denied speculation about the possibility of jointly listing talchum as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage with North Korea, as was the case with “ssireum,” or Korean wrestling.

“For now, we are not considering jointly listing talchum with North Korea,” Park Hyung-bin, a senior researcher of World Heritage Division in Cultural Heritage Administration, told The Korea Herald.

The Cultural Heritage Administration added that it will continue working with the relevant associations and authorities, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the talchum inscribed on the UNESCO list.

By Song Seung-hyun (