You’re sitting in Paris Baguette after a day’s shopping, enjoying a hot cup of Columbian coffee and admiring your new sneakers. The neon green Nike symbol glistens in the fluorescent light.
Suddenly, a goateed Anglo-looking man walks by. No big deal, except he’s dressed head-to-toe in traditional Korean garb.
A transparent black horse-hair and bamboo hat pops up from his head, a stark white hanbok flows from his body and bold black lines curve along his little white shoes. What is this man up to?
From November 7 to 14, Art Scenic hosted Among Garde, an exhibition by the Art Scenic International Residency Artist Program.
Among the playful images of the exhibition, one series garnering much attention was IEODOSIMON, a collaboration between wife and husband Yoki S Jeong and Simon J Powell.
▲ Photo by IEODOSIMON
The photos display Powell in a traditional Korean scholar “seonbi” outfit posing at the carnival, the mall, and church in “old” Jeju City.
In these shots appear contrasts between traditional and contemporary, global and local, that provoke questions about transculturation in modern globalized Korea.
“Wondoshim” (old town) is the backdrop of these images, and it holds great significance as the historic heart of Jeju City and administrative center during the Tamna period.
It has been the center of preservation efforts in recent years as historic neighborhoods have been damaged by gentrification projects.
"Wondoshim is Jeju's past and future, failure and hope, and the mirror of Jeju society in all its tortured modernity," states Jeju City researcher Tommy Tran. IEODOSIMON is an effort to bring light to this conflicted modernity.
Simon Powell spoke with The Jeju Weekly about the concepts underlying the project.
▲ Photo by IEODOSIMON
What does IEODOSIMON mean?
Ieodo is a legendary place of no return in Jeju folklore, famously referenced in the folk song Ieodosana (“living in Ieodo”). Ieodo symbolizes both a tragic final destination for men lost at sea and a heavenly utopia for the island’s women.
As for myself, I'm from London. I am a foreigner experiencing Jeju at a time when Jeju is experiencing foreign culture. Jeju is my home and my Ieodo.
Where did the idea for this kind of series come from?
Yoki and I were experimenting with the comical juxtaposition of a foreign model emotionally interacting with stereotypically Korean scenery.
Encouraged by positive feedback, we evolved the idea into something more serious, whilst maintaining an air of playful mischief.
How did members of the public respond to the shoot in public?
With a mixture of bemusement and amusement, plenty of intrigue and the odd approving shout of "Korea…very good!" Onlookers took at least as many shots as Yoki did.
At the Tapdong fairground, families assumed I was an employee and ordered me to pose for pictures. It's rare to see a seonbi walking the streets of modern-day Korea, let alone a Caucasian seonbi.
How did you manage to work with so much attention focused on you?
That was only half the problem. Businesses typically do not allow rapscallions to photograph their premises, so we entered a mission impossible-style scenario.
Surprisingly though, it was easy to work at the airport, despite incessant stares. I had a lump in my throat when the armed transport police approached ominously...but they marched straight past me as though I were a ghost. Perhaps they didn't believe their eyes.
Is there an intended message for viewers of IEODOSIMON?
The power of art lies in its ability to ask rather than answer questions. Personally, I am interested in reflecting the absurd complexity of reality in a visually creative way. IEODOSIMON is merely showcasing amalgamations created by globalization.
The series is deliberately provocative, but ultimately it is neither critical nor celebratory. The contradictory responses to the piece will mirror the contradictions in the photos and modern-day Wondoshim.
When does cultural appropriation go from appropriate to inappropriate?
I am not sure if cultural authenticity is real in today’s globalized, post-modern world, where almost everything is intertwined.
I am a British atheist, ethnically Jewish, with Eastern European great-grandparents. I’m married to a Korean woman, travelling the world and living in Jeju.
Which of my complex personal, familial and historical identities must I conform with to be culturally authentic? As for the term “appropriation,” it is loaded to connote inappropriateness. But these days it is getting harder to decipher.
If you want to find where your “line” lies, come to IEODOSIMON and decide for yourself.
About the artists Simon J Powell is an Englishman born in London. For four years he has travelled the peninsula engaging with Korean culture and language. Yoki S. Jeong is a Korean photographer from Seoul. She has lived abroad for over a decade, traveling widely and learning numerous languages.
Powell is an outsider experiencing Korea from the inside. Yoki is an insider who has experienced Korea from the outside. Thanks to their individual experiences, the artists have developed complementary perspectives on Korean culture.
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