Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World overview photo

Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World

  • Type:Campbell Gallery
  • Duration:Temporary

(date) 3/2/2010–7/11/2010

Death is a given of the human condition that touches everyone in every age. In almost all cultures, the trauma of death is countered by artistic expressions of great richness. In Korea during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, artisans carved wooden figures—called kokdu 꼭두—which were used to decorate the funeral bier.

This exhibition features a collection of 74 kokdu that offer rare insights into characteristically Korean attitudes towards death. The figures of acrobats, clowns and whimsical mystical animals included among kokdu expresses a joyfulness that may seem incompatible with mourning, but the inclusion of such figures actually reflects a sophisticated appreciation of the fleeting nature of all experience. The use of kokdu in funeral rites also expresses a deeply held wish that the transition to the other world will occur in an atmosphere of joyful celebration supported by many helpers.

The kokdu decorated the funeral bier as it performed its practical function—conveying the coffin of the deceased to the burial ground—and its symbolic function, as a temporary home for the deceased and a representation of the great distance between life and death.

All of the objects in this exhibition are on loan from the permanent collection of the Seoul-based Ockrang Cultural Foundation. Support for this exhibition was provided by the Korea Foundation.