Dec 14, 2016 - Mar 5, 2017


National Folk Museum of Korea

We encounter various colors in everyday life, associate each color with certain images and base decisions about many different subjects in relation with colors. Colors have been used in different ways all over the world, but there exist differences in what they allude to or signify, due to different philosophies and customs from one country or period to another. Through exploring the changes in the colors applied in everyday life from the past to the modern era, the audience is invited to enjoy the Korean colors in this exhibition, examining their meanings and values, which surround us in our lives.

All that is seen is colors.
Yet for what reason do people esteem different colors at different times?

"Colors" in Mumyeongjajip Mungo by Yun Gi(1741-1826)

Since the values and the symbolism that a color reflects are formulated by history and society, a color can represent an era as well as a culture. Therefore, a color manifests itself in various ways in relation with the specific experience, emotions, social values or education of each individual. the traces left by life in the five colors of blue, red, yellow, white and black, permeats into our lives today through their use in contemporary work.
1-1. White
<Purity, Innocence, Rectitude, Temperance> White has since long ago signified purity and temperance, that is, a 'clean state of mind without greed'. The notion of colorlessness has closely been connected with the Korean people, as they were called "Baeguiminjok(the white-clad people)" by foreigners from ancient times and into the modern era. Also, white porcelain radiates the beauty of purity and temperance, representing the rectitude and integrity of the scholars in the Joseon Dynasty.
1-2. Black
<Darkness, Death, Formality, Dignity, Rules> Black has been associated with negative meanings such as night, death, darkness, etc. But the black official hat and attire of the Joseon Dynasty represent 'formality' and 'dignity,' and through the simplified black official attire and school uniforms and so on worn after the japanese occupation, it has also come to signify 'institutions' and 'rules.' On the other hand, the color black in the modern era is favored through its perception as a color that signifies 'exclusivity' and 'chic', ridding itself of its colemn and gloomy nuances of the past. 
1-3. Red
<Authority, Exorcism, Pursuits of Happiness, Anti-communism, Cohesion, Solidarity> For a long time, the color red has been believed to have shamanistic power for warding off evil spirits or bad luck. People have protected themselves against bad energy by using red in writing amulets, dying their fingernails with garden balsam, or eating red-bean potage (Patjuk). After the Korean War, red came to be perceived as the color of communism, thus gaining a negative connotation, but since the 2002 World Cup, it has become a symbol of passion and the color that promotes social cohesion.
1-4. Blue
<Spring, Youth, Hope, Utopia> In East Asianphilosophy, blue has signified utopian nature. The various hues of the mountains, sea and sky, from light blue, to green, to navy blue, were considered collectively as belonging to one color signifying 'life' and 'hope.' In western culture, this color has been related to 'the blues' in a negative sense, but in modern times, it has become a color signifying hope for the vigor of youth. 
1-5. Yellow
<Holiness, Wealth, Authority, Fertility, Warning> Yellow, as the main color used by the Emperor is associated with nobility, dignity and holiness. As the main color of the Yin-Yang&Ohaeng(Five Elements of the Universe), precious and shining brightly, it signifies the earth soil and fertility. In modern times, it is often used for children due to its bright and convivial image, but also as a warning color alluding to danger because it attracts people's attention. 
<Growth, Incompatibility, Harmony> Since ancient times, Koreans have applied colors to the pursuit of the harmony between Yin and Yang, the successful coexistence with the incompatible, and unity with nature in their lives. according to the Ohaeng(Five Elements of the Universe), it it possible to cure a disease and to repel a demon through the use of the colors red and blue which correspond to Yang, the energy of life, that can neutralize the negative energy, Yin. Especially, the use of blue and red together on a sajudanja(the letter from the family of a groom to his bride-to-be) and a bojagi(traditional wedding ceremony wrapping cloth) have been used to signify the Yin Yang respectively in the harmonious union of man and a woman marriage.
2-1. Black&White
2-2. Red&Blue
2-3. Red&Black
<Union, Harmony, Saekdong, Full Color> From the royal family to the common people, colors in Asian culture have served not only in daily life but also to represent symbolic and ideological concepts in important rites such as the Four Ceremonial Occasions of  Life(coming of age, wedding, funeral, and ancestral rite, Kr. Gwan-hon-sang-je). Korean aesthetics of color can bo observed as intact in the harmony of the five colors in the theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, the harmony of saekdong(Multi-colored) in the making of patchwork of colorful striped, and the resplendent colors of najeon(lacquer wares inlaid with mother-of-pearl).
3. Five Cardinal Colors
3-2. Saekdong
3-3. Shining Brilliantly in Various Colors
Credits: Story

전시총괄 기량
전시진행 최순권
전시기획 황경선, 김기도, 김은혜, 허효빈
전시디자인 유민지, 이경민
전시영상 조소현, 한영경, Zemmix Sugarsaltpepper, 수필름
전시홍보물 강규희, TEXT, 동아그래픽스
전시시공 (주)일래븐
영문번역 박신희, 노윤경
중문번역 이흔이(Li Xinyi)
일문번역 사카이 카오리(Sakai Kaori)
사진촬영 서헌강

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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