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[From the Scene] Kang Ik-joong's 'Things I Know' shows people's inner voices in Hangeul

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Oct. 20, 2023 - 18:59

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"Things I Know" is on display at the Korean Cultural Center in Madrid, Thursday. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald)

MADRID -- Heavy rainfall in Madrid caused the city to declare a red alert for adverse weather conditions at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Several subway stations and city parks were shut down, but the downpour did not dampen the spirit of the crowd who had gathered to celebrate a vibrant display of art and Korean culture.

About 150 people gathered at the Korean Cultural Center in Spain to attend the opening of the public installation work “Things I Know” -- a colorful series of wise words written character by character on canvases measuring under 60 square centimeters by participants, and to meet New York-based artist Kang Ik-joong, who created the work. For the Madrid installation, Kang invited people learning Korean in Spain to take part in the project.

Inside the exhibition space, three walls came to life, adorned with a total of 6,072 characters written in Hangeul by around 365 students studying the Korean language in Spain. Kang's signature moon jar painting is placed at the end of each sentence.

Engaging participants from various institutions such as the Complutense National University of Madrid, University of Malaga, University of Salamanca, Las Palmas King Sejong Institute and Korean Cultural Center in Spain, the event was a canvas of collective expression.

Each participant inscribed their favorite Korean phrase along with their name, drawing the letters in their own style, resulting in a vibrant tapestry of ideas and colors. The engraved syllables, now etched on wooden blocks, merged to create a mural to reflect participants' varied styles and concepts.

Visitors view Kang Ik-joong's installation Visitors view Kang Ik-joong's installation "Things I Know" at the Korean Cultural Center in Spain, located in Madrid, Thursday. (Korean Cultural Center in Spain)

“We are gathering all the inner voices in our hearts, in the form of Hangeul. Hangeul is a letter with a philosophy in which consonants and vowels come together to make sounds, like a harmony of yin and yang,” Kang said in an interview with The Korea Herald ahead of the event.

"We usually live our lives listening to what happens outside instead of listening to what happens inside us. Even when we read books and newspapers, they are all other people's news or thoughts, not ours. This situation has worsened especially with social network services.”

Visitors view Kang Ik-joong's installation Visitors view Kang Ik-joong's installation "Things I Know" at the Korean Cultural Center in Spain, located in Madrid, Thursday. (Korean Cultural Center in Spain)

Amid the creative fervor, each participant sought their own phrase.

Beatriz Garay wrote, “A rainbow will appear after the rain stops,” and Irune wrote, “Make your way step by step,” in Korean.

"I wrote 'I love you' here," said Estela pointing to her sentence in Korean. She is learning the language at the King Sejong Institute. "I first started learning Korean by myself after watching K-dramas. I am interested in foreign cultures and want to understand more. Seeing my sentence in the installation, I am proud of myself.”

The installation is an impressive sight to behold. The top and bottom feature hues of red, while the middle section is resplendent in yellow. At the heart of it all, a moon jar -- artist Kang’s signature motif -- creates a harmonious fusion, reminiscent of the Spanish flag.

Kang explained that his moon jar is also like Hangeul in that the top and the bottom parts are made separately and put together before the jar is fired in a kiln.

“I believe that Hangeul can change the world. It is a writing of peace and harmony in which consonants and vowels come together to form sounds. I consider Hangeul to be the secret code and the key to the hope that will heal a world marked by conflict,” Kang said.

A visitor writes a sentence in Korean on the wallpaper at the Korean Cultural Center in Spain, located in Madrid, Thursday. (Korean Cultural Center in Spain) A visitor writes a sentence in Korean on the wallpaper at the Korean Cultural Center in Spain, located in Madrid, Thursday. (Korean Cultural Center in Spain)

The opening ceremony was followed by quizzes related to Hangeul and Kang, along with engaging Korean traditional games like Red Light, Green Light and tug-of-war. Numbered tickets were distributed in advance to ensure every visitor had a chance to participate.

"The Hangeul wall is not a dividing wall but a connecting wall," said Kang. The area encircled by the three walls was filled with laughter and mirth as activities took place within the space.

Korean Cultural Center in Spain, King Sejong Institute, The Korea Herald, Complutense National University of Madrid, University of Salamanca and University of Malaga are co-hosting the event.

Other Hangeul projects are in the works in Canada, Cairo and New York, with Spain pioneering the first large-scale Hangeul mural project, according to Kang.

The exhibition runs through Jan. 5, 2024.