|Period||September 7 2022 ~ November 7 2022|
|Venue||Special Exhibition II NFMK Seoul|
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