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Title Korean Diaspora
Period September 7 2022 ~ November 7 2022
Venue Special Exhibition II NFMK Seoul

  • Exhibition Title: Корейцы, Корё сарам: Korean Diaspora
  • Exhibition Venue: Special Exhibition Hall II in the National Folk Museum of Korea
  • Exhibition Dates: September 7 (Wednesday)–November 7 (Sunday), 2022
  • Exhibition Theme: The daily lives and culture of Koryo people and their identity

The National Folk Museum of Korea (Director: Kim Jong-dae) is hosting the special exhibition Korean Diaspora in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The exhibition centers on sixty out of the 352 photographs depicting the daily lives of Koryo people in Central Asia that were donated by the photographer Victor An (Виктор Ан).
The exhibition traces the daily lives of Koryo (Korean) people who lived scattered across Central Asia during the major political upheavals in the last century while they struggled to settle and survive. The sixty photographs depicting the daily lives of Koryo people featured in this exhibition provide portraits of Koryo people as they formed a dual identity while being influenced by the cultures of local people in exotic lands, the longstanding traditions maintained by the Koryo community, and the culture of their distant ancestral homeland.

Victor An (Виктор Ан), a Photographer Who Captured the Lives of Koryo People

A photographer should find his or her own language, style, and theme.
Around the mid-1980s, I came to take an interest in Koryo people.
I thought ‘who will photograph them if I don’t?’
I really felt the necessity.
- Victor An (Виктор Ан)

Victor An (Виктор Ан) is an ethnic Koryo photographer holding Uzbeki nationality. Starting in 1978 while the region was still under the rule of the Soviet Union, he worked as a photo journalist for the Lenin Gichi (Ленин киӌи; Lenin’s Stand), a Korean-language newspaper published for Koryo people. Since then, he has worked as a professional photographer. An also served at the Koryo Ilbo (Корё ильбо; Koryo Daily), another Korean language newspaper. He has photographed the history and lives of Koryo people across the territory of the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia.
An’s photographs capturing the history and lives of Koryo people from the perspective of one of their own are significant in that they are useful for studying the Korean diaspora. They are rare materials which have never previously been donated to or collected by any institutions in South Korea. Greatly appreciative of his efforts, the National Folk Museum of Korea received the donation of 352 photographs by An in May 2022 as a part of its Survey on Daily Lives and Culture of Overseas Koreans (Central Asia) project.

Familiar Yet Unfamiliar Culture of the Koryo People

The exhibition presents the daily lives and culture of Koryo people in nine sections based on common themes in Korean folk life and culture such as rites of passage, seasonal customs, food, and housing.
A common impression that Koreans carry away from these photographs of Koryo people is intertwined feelings of familiarity and strangeness. This contradictory sense is evoked by the daily lives of Koryo people that have been restructured in accordance with local conditions around various lifestyles originating from several cultures. A wide range of cultural resources and elements have impacted the daily lives of Koryo people. They include the traditions of northeastern regions of the Korean Peninsula, such as Hamgyeong-do Province, Russian culture embraced under the Soviet Union’s ethnic assimilation policies, the cultures of neighboring ethnic groups like the Uzbeks and Kazakhs, and local natural surroundings. We receive a familiar yet somewhat foreign impression from the daily lives of Koryo people as we find both commonalities and differences between South Korean and Koryo cultures.

The Identity as Koryo People

In the past, Koryo people felt ashamed of their ethnic identity.
However, at that time, we and our friends
secured our position under the sky and obtained our rights with our bare hands.
It was a very critical time for us.
- Victor An (Виктор Ан)

The Russian term “Корейцы” (Kareichi) that has been widely used in Central Asia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union refers to all ethnic Koreans, whether living in or out of the boundaries of Korea.1 Like in the English word ‘Korean,’ the distinctions among them are obscured in the Russian word ‘Kareichi.’
However, Koryo people call themselves ‘Корё сарам’ (Koryosaram, meaning people of Koryo). It indicates that they recognize themselves as a community differentiated from both Koreans living in the faraway motherland and their ancestors, Joseon-era Koreans people who lived in the maritime provinces of Russia.
The Koryo people community is sustained by memories of the generations of struggle to survive and settle in new lands after they were forcibly relocated to the faraway Central Asia. These memories are distinctive to Koryo people, and are not shared with Koreans of the Joseon era or today. The daily lives depicted in the photographs reflect the fusion of Korean traditions and the cultures of several ethnic groups from Russia and Central Asia. They serve as varied evidence of forced migration and settlement.
1) The Russian word ‘Коре йский’ (Kareiski) is well-known among Koreans. It means ‘of Korea’ and is not used to refer to people.

Major Exhibition Materials

In the Rice Field
Namangan Province in Uzbekistan

This photograph shows three figures standing in a rice field. In the middle is a Koryo person giving instructions to two Uzbek laborers holding farming tools. This photo reflects how Koryo people gained recognition in the field of agriculture.
Wedding of Anatoliya An
Gulistan in Sirdaryo Province, Uzbekistan

This photograph depicts a scene of a newly married couple heading to the groom’s house after their wedding ceremony. The couple is riding in a car decorated with dolls and ribbons, and the groom’s relatives are guiding the car and dancing. Once the car stops and the couple gets out of the car, the relatives offer the bride and groom a glass of vodka to welcome them.
Advertisement from the Koryo Sinmun (Koryo Newspaper)
Registan Square in Samarqand, Uzbekistan

Due to the communist party’s policy on minorities, there were no Korean-language newspapers for Koryo people beyond the Lenin Gichi (Ленин киӌи; Lenin’s Stand) prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Koryo Sinmun (Koryo Newspaper) seen in the photograph is a Korean-language newspaper that began to be published in 1997 by Koryo people in the independent nation of Uzbekistan. Besides the Koryo Sinmun, there is the Koryo Ilbo (Koryo Daily) published for Koryo people in Kazakhstan.
Vital An Standing Next to a Ttangjip (Half-buried House)
Akbulak Village in Orenburg Province, Russia

This photograph features a ttangjip (a type of house half-buried in the ground) where visiting farmers lived temporarily. Visiting farmers leave their homes in March for spring planting, stay at a ttangjip built near rented farmland, and return home in October after the harvest.
Making Chaltteogi (Glutinous Rice Cakes)
Bektemir District in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

In this photograph, Koryo people are seen making chaltteogi or chareuttogi (glutinous rice cakes). Crushing grains of cooked rice with a mallet to make rice cakes is a common sight when people are making injeolmi (Korean rice cake coated with bean flour) in South Korea today.
Doljabi (First Birthday Selection for Predicting the Future)
Bolshevik Collective Farm, in Tashkent Province, Uzbekistan

A doljabi is a customary practice observed to predict the future of a baby. He or she picks from among several objects on a table at a first birthday celebration. It is still being practiced in South Korea today.
On the table for Koryo people’s first birthday celebration are also three bowls of chaltteogi (glutinous rice cakes) and one bowl each of rice and red beans.
A Koryo Person Offering Flowers to a Bust of Hong Beom-do
Kyzylorda in Kazakhstan

Hong Beom-do (Хон Бумдо, 1869–1943) was an independence activist who served as a commander-in-chief of the Korean Independence Army and a vice president of the Greater Korea Independence Corps during the Japanese colonial era. He was based in the maritime provinces of Russia while working toward Korean independence. However, in 1937, he was forcibly relocated to present-day Kyzylorda in Kazakhstan. He is a source of pride for Koryo people and a respected hero.
Native Koreans also still remember Hong Beom-do as a hero of the Korean independence movement. In 1962, the South Korean government posthumously granted him the Presidential Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation. In 2021, Hong’s remains were transferred to the Daejeon National Cemetery. He was also given the Republic of Korea Medal of the Order of Merit for National Foundation.
Koryo People Offering Flowers to a Bust of Kim Byeong-hwa
Kim Pen Khva Museum in Tashkent Province, Uzbekistan

Kim Byeong-hwa (Ким Пен Хва, 1905–1974) was a soldier and politician in the Soviet Union. He achieved great results while managing the Polyarnaya Zvezda (Полярная звезда) Collective Farm and in 1948 was given the title ‘Hero of Labor.’ Later, the Polyarnaya Zvezda Collective Farm changed its name to Kim Byeong-hwa Collective Farm and founded a museum in his honor.

Date 2022-09-27
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