a special portrait exhibition in Korea

04.07.2021 – Seoul, Korea
– Bereket Alemayehu

Photographs by Bereket Alemayehu


As honorary reporter of the Korean Culture and Information Service this year, a group of reporters based in Korea had the privilege of visiting the special exhibition titled “Icons and Identities” presented by the Korea National Museum in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, based in London.

It has been said that this special exhibition is the first to introduce Korean viewers to this world-famous collection which will remain open to the public until August 15, 2021 in Seoul.

The Portrait Collection features the artistic expressions of well-known public figures of the past 500 years, very diverse figures who represent a wide range – icons of fame, power, love and loss, innovation, identity and self-portraits. The collection includes iconic figures – from William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens to Nelson Mandela and young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai in 2018 made by Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat.

The curator says that a portrait can powerfully evoke the presence of the sitter and act as a visual substitute for that person, and adds that it is both simple and multifaceted, unfamiliar but immediately engaging at the same time. Looking at a portrait involves a visual and mental dance between looking at an image and engaging with the person depicted. The exhibition introduces viewers to the lives of seventy-six people and tells stories about the genre of portraiture. We live in a time when pictures take precedence over words. Sometimes a single image can tell everything about the person. Today’s selfies and 16th-century portraits basically share the same purpose.

In addition, the organizers of the special visit for honorary journalists based in Korea offered the traditional seal carving, a cultural experience of making a personal seal on stones known as Jeongak, which is an artistic synthesis of calligraphy, painting, sculpture and design. We have made our own personalized seals, featuring distinctive calligraphic writing and traditional carving techniques guided by professionals in the field.

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