Korean Art: Kim Hong-Do Vs. Shin Yun-Bok

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Korean Art: Kim Hong-Do vs. Shin Yun-Bok

Painting of the Sword Dance: Power vs. Beauty by Kim Hong-Do Unlike many artists of the Joseon era who portray high-ranking officials or various types of landscape, Kim Hong-Do exhibits a very different aspect of Joseon Korea. The Painting of the Sword Dance, dating back to 1758, illustrates a performance held by two women (www.eng.buddhapia.com). Hong Do has created this colorful piece on a modest eleven-inch by fourteen-inch paper. Hong Do portrays two Kisaeng women, or female entertainers, performing geommu, a traditional sword dance, for a group of Yangban men and women. In this painting, the segregation of the Joseon class system is clearly evident: the Yangban class occupies the upper left, the court musicians play their instruments along the bottom, and the Kisaeng women showcase their sword dance in the center (www.londonkoreanlinks.net). Although this segregation of class system is prevalent in the painting, Hong Do depicts the compelling atmosphere of the Kisaeng women through their powerful yet delicate nature of the sword dance.

Hong Do's use of very fine ink strokes on the characters' faces, bodies, and garments is delicate and controlled. The Kisaeng women, despite their low social status, dominate this painting (www.eng.buddhapia.com). The bright and powerful colors of red, green, and yellow displayed on the Kisaeng women overpower the dull, washed-out green and white colors displayed on the members of the Yangban class and musicians. The movement of these women, shown through the effortlessly free-flowing of garments, is charismatic (www.seoulselection.com). Hong Do emphasizes the Kisaeng women through the different uses of coloration and configurations. However, their alluring aura seems confined under the geometrically shaped mats on the floor, suggesting that even the simplest household items are designed and used for the stratification of the Joseon class system.

The members of the Yangban class sit comfortably, enjoying the performance of the sword dance. One of the women holds a long tobacco pipe, another common household item, suggesting that she belongs to a higher class because her servants must light her tobacco. One of the men holds a fan, which also suggests a higher social status. Hong Do's careful attention to these traditional household items ensures the viewers that a class distinction is present among all subjects of this painting.

Although there are only two Kisaeng women, they occupy the most space on the painting. There are sufficient amounts of negative space between and around the Kisaeng women but little around the Yangban men and women. The musicians are placed close to one another with hardly enough room to play their instruments. Therefore, Hong Do assigns these two Kisaeng women as the key focus of this painting. Their powerful movements during the sword dance cause an increase in their overall size, larger than that of the Yangban man, suggesting a change in dominance during this exact moment of the painting. The powerful nature of the Kisaeng women is balanced with the intricate details of their costumes, especially the headwear, decorated with feathers ...
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