Monday, April 29, 2019

Hop Skip Jump: Ups and Downs of Korean Shamans in New York City

(First published 2003)

Ground Zero and Niagara Falls were a hop, skip and jump away from each other when Kim Keumhwa  Korea's National Shaman, came New York to present Daedong Gutt, a grand community ritual to promote harmony and reconciliation, during the Lincoln Center Festival.

Like typical tourists, the site of the World Trade Center was the first stop for her troupe of 18 master ritual artists, most of whom were making their first trip to the USA. Standing along the perimeter, a cyclone fence protecting one world from the other, Ms. Kim's attention was at once fixed across the broad plateau and drawn inevitably upward along the phantom limbs. A tall, elegant woman, she stood extremely still and seemed preoccupied with this experience even during the festival's fanfare.

Two days later, and two hours into the 3.5 hour ritual before an SRO crowd at John Jay College Theatre, the cacophony of hand drums, gongs and screeching woodwinds made mince-meat out of linear thought. Ms. Kim, whose vitality defied her 72 years of age, lost not one beat as she hop, skipped and jumped barefooted up a 10 foot ladder, landing upon the twin rails of the razor sharp chakdu (Korean rice straw cleavers).

Demonstrated earlier to easily slice fabric but make no impression when pressed to her arms, legs or tongue, the chakdu were braced tightly, edges up, atop a "tower" composed of two oil drums seated end-on-end, upon which a large water-filled crock and wood box filled with 30 pounds of uncooked rice were stacked. 

A slight breeze came across the stage, rustling USA and Korean flags fixed -- like a skyscraper topping off ceremony -- atop twin 25 foot bamboo poles flanking the chakdu "tower". Five, colored streamers attached below the flags picked up on the breeze as the music reached a frenzy. Ms. Kim took hold of the vertical poles to steady herself and began to slowly turn around atop the cutting edges.

The other shamans rubbed their palms together in traditional circular motion, their attention completely supporting their senior colleague who, now facing the audience, indicated to the musicians to stop playing. From here, she began to speak the oracle of the spirit of the "Knife Riding General" whose brilliantly colored striped costume she wore:

"So many souls remain wandering among the remnants of Ground Zero who are still suffering … Pray with your heart to whatever god you will … Get on with your lives with renewed integrity and compassion … Be happy and respect each other." 

It is from this vantage, for over half a century, that Kim Mansin has been called upon to reconcile relationships and promote harmony among ancestors, spirits and those of us still kicking and screaming and trying to make sense of life. She gets the Big Picture. She said she felt a lot of compassion for those souls at Ground Zero and would be happy to do a ritual to release them. It's her job.

Receiving life-saving spiritual initiation at the age of 19 from her grandmother, also a renown shaman, the charismatic woman has been an acclaimed master ritualist of the northern provinces style for over half her life. Her title, Mansin, reflects her command of 10,000 spirits, and they, her. Designated by the Korean government as primary presenter of Important Intangible Cultural Property #82, Seohean Pongeoje, West Sea Rite for a Bountiful Fishing Catch, she also convenes public rituals, including one to promote reunification of the peninsula. She has many private clients, including women and men who, due to their own possession by malevolent spirits and unsettled ancestors, require initiation and would then follow in her footsteps, literally.

"I get on the chakdu to assume the bad fortune, the pain, of others, she explained. "I poke myself here and there, arms and legs, to assume and block the pain on behalf others. The chakdu blocks petty spirits and misfortune. Therefore they must be kept exceptionally sharp."

She acknowledges that she has been hurt by the chakdu, "The spirit sometimes leaves a mark to show the presence of insincere people."

A visit to Niagara Falls seemed an excellent way to "come down" from the rigors of the "performance", and the troupe did just that. Standing safely behind the guard rail on the Canadian side, Kim Mansin took it all in, as if viewing it from some distant place. The seamless, mighty flow of water was relentless in its pull on the imagination: horizontal then downward. Attraction to the edge was palpable. Perhaps acting for personal fame rather than the redemption of others is a recipe for disaster. Those who dared the devil and took the plunge would know, too. Shamanism isn't for everyone.

"You have to work at it and give it your all to be of help to people," she reflected. Think of it like this: A candle gives light, but it burns itself away in doing so. You aren't helping others if it isn't difficult."

Monday, June 18, 2018

Artist as Shaman: RIP ED MOSES

“My thought is that the artist functions in a tribal context, that he is the shaman. When the urban life came in, tribes no longer existed … but there was still a genetic core of shamans, broken loose and genetically floating around. And when they had this gene, they shook the rattles. The shamans were the interpreters of the unknown, they reacted to the unknown with symbols and objects and wall painting. And that’s where it all came from. That’s where I came from. But when you’re a young man you don’t know that. -- Ed Moses


That's life. Will the big guy on top crush the little guy on bottom? Cheering on the little guy to hold on. Don't give up! I found the upper guy oppressive. And what's up with the place they seem to touch? Were they separable? Inseparable? How long until I see it as a Whole Object in Balance?

Three times I missed the difference.
I thought I forgot to copy the other one and send it along.
I thought I took another photo of the same image.
The short term memory loss is crazy making.
I must remind myself that I am skilled.
Reliable beyond my idea.

Multiples like scales practiced.
Which one do I like?
Thinking about looking at photo contact sheet through a loupe.
Looking for that distinction?
Perfect one?

Primari-ly but not primary.
Blue, Orange and Green
Is the same amount of yellow included in both orange and green?
Is this  yellow what makes the composition hold together?

The tombstone says we add the yellow.
I don't miss it at all.
I like the whilte of the
5 distinct panels of color.
Yellow hops over white like a child caught in an ambivalent divorce of parents with joint custody.
 But what if ...

Which one?

Something is becoming ...
In the process 

Making room for strong opinions

Random thoughts looking for PATTERNS
Yellow hops over white.

For more information on Ellsworth Kelly, try Artsy!

(Not) Prime Footwear

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Works by 5 Women Artists Among 9 New Acquisitions @ LACMA

 Works by Betye Saar, Martha Boto, Ruth Asawa, Julie Mehretu and Jennifer Bartlett were formally welcomed into LACMA at the 2018 Collectors Committee weekend. Here's the full list of acquisitions. Excellent. Thanks, Guerilla Girls, Lynda Resnick, Ann Colgin and other collectors for making this possible.

Betye Saar’s I'll Bend But I Will Not Break (1998) is a sculptural tableau comprising an ironing board imprinted on top with a diagram of a British slave ship, showing how scores of bodies were sandwiched into the ship’s lower deck. An iron—chained to the ironing board just as slaves were chained to slave ships—refers not only to female labor but also to the marking of slaves with branding irons. In the tableau, a sheet is pinned to an ordinary laundry line with letters “KKK” appliquéd onto the sheet, a reference to the white sheets and hoods worn by the members of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the first large-scale work by Saar to enter LACMA’s collection and will be included in the artist’s upcoming LACMA exhibition Betye Saar: Call and Response (opening 2019). Gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Martha Boto’s Optique Helicoidal (Mouvement) (1967) is a superb work by a major representative of the kinetic art movement, one of the only women to work in this vein. Created in Paris following Boto's move there from Buenos Aires, the work combines modern technology and new materials (e.g. aluminum, stainless steel, and Plexiglas) to produce mesmerizing optical effects. Deceivingly simple, the work is precisely conceived to trick the viewer’s eye and induce contemplation. “My particular means of movement, color, and light can give the illusion of contraction, or multiplication, so that by optical means the spectator undergoes a series of reactions,” said Boto. This is the first work by this pioneering postwar Latin American artist to enter LACMA’s collection.
Gift of Gayle and Tim DeVries through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Parviz Tanavoli’s , Lion and Sword II, 1975, and Lion and Sword III, 1976, two carpets; , 2008, a screenprint; and , 2015, a portfolio of four screenprints. Tanavoli, one of the founders of Iran’s main modernism movement, has a long-standing fascination with lions, which he has rendered in a variety of media and configurations. In these two carpets Tanavoli highlights a long-established emblem of kingship and the Iranian state—a lion with sun rising from its back (Shir u Khurshid). More recently Tanavoli has returned to these earlier designs in a series of prints, where he redeploys the original images by focusing on color and form. The two carpets will be featured in the upcoming exhibition In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art (May 6–September 9, 2018). Gift of Hope Warschaw through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S.027, Hanging Six Open Hyperbola Forms that Penetrate Each Other, with a Half-Hyperbola at the Top, (1954) is an early and unusual example of her ethereal hangings that redefine the notion of sculpture as solid form. Described by the artist as “open hyperbola forms that penetrate each other,” the work was inspired by a 1947 trip to Toluca, Mexico, where Asawa observed local artisans forming baskets from a mesh of interlocking wire loops. Upon her return to the U.S. she began her lifelong journey of transforming this functional technique and modest industrial material into poetic works of art. While also known for her drawing, printmaking, and civic art initiatives, Asawa is most revered for these transparent looped-wire sculptures. Gift of an anonymous donor and the 2018 Collectors Committee with additional funds from the Buddy Taub Foundation.

Julie Mehretu’s Epigraph, Damascus, (2016) is a monumental six-panel work that uses photogravure, a 19th-century technique that fuses photography with etching, with aquatint (using sugar lift and spit bite) and open bite. Mehretu created the foundation of the print from images of architectural drawings of buildings in Damascus, which she then overlaid with an array of marks—a fusion of past and present that, in the context of Syrian history, resonates with the regrettable reality of history repeating itself. Epigraph, Damascus joins one print by Mehretu, Local Calm (2005), and one painting, Untitled (2012), in LACMA’s collection, and will be featured in her mid-career survey, Julie Mehretu, co-organized by LACMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art (opening at LACMA in November 2019) Gift of Kelvin Davis and Hana Kim through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Forest Spirit Figure (Nigeria, Niger Delta, Ijo culture, 19th century), a monumental sculptural figure with seven heads and 14 eyes, emblematic of its role in protecting a community and promoting well-being. This commanding guardian figure is the most imposing and expressive of all known examples, and among the most remarkable works of sub-Saharan Africa. It was the centerpiece of Tradition as Innovation in African Art at LACMA in 2008. With its alert, superhuman vigilance, the forest spirit figure will have prominence in LACMA’s permanent collection galleries, underscoring the multiplicity of visions that LACMA embodies and imparts. Gift of the Silver Family and the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Collection of African Ceremonial Barkcloth Paintings (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mbuti culture, 20th century) are 29 barkcloth paintings created by nomadic groups of people known as the Mbuti, who reside in the Ituri rainforest. Mbuti men harvest bark from trees and pound them into pliable sheets that serve as painting surfaces for Mbuti women, whose art, with its aesthetics of asymmetry and visual dissonance, mimics the imagery of the rainforest and aligns with the syncopated polyphonic rhythms of Mbuti music.
Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee.

 Jennifer Bartlett’s House Piece (1970) is an early, seminal work that demonstrates the artist's innovative and characteristic use of enameled steel plates as standardized units for her compositions. It comprises 61 12-inch-square plates to which color was applied in the form of dots to create multiple representations of what Bartlett described as a “banal, yet poignant” image of a house. The fact that she submits the house image to an almost relentless deconstruction, analysis, and reconfiguration problematizes*  any fixed notion of “home,” while also investigating the nature of representation itself. House Piece will be featured in the LACMA’s 2021 exhibition Coded: Art at the Dawn of the Computer Age, 1960–1980. (Editor's Note to Visual Artists / Curators: How about if you leave the writing to the writers. I'll not mess with the visual artmaking.)
Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee and the Schloss Family.

Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta (Korea, Joseon dynasty, 17th century) is a Korean gilt wood sculpture depicting one of the most powerful bodhisattvas in the Buddhist pantheon. Mahasthamaprapta symbolizes the power of wisdom in Buddhist practice, and in East Asian Buddhist art is often paired with Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Like Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta is an emanation of the Buddha Amitabha (Buddha of the Western Paradise or Pure Land), and is often depicted in China, Korea, and Japan. This sculpture is a significant addition to LACMA's collection of Korean Buddhist art.
Gift of Florence and Harry Sloan through the 2018 Collectors Committee.

Hakuin Ekaku’s  Willow Kannon (c. 1755) depicts the Bodhisattva of Compassion who sits in meditation, her eyes slightly opened in accordance with Zen practice. The willow to her right signals that she is the Willow Kannon, evoking both her strength and flexibility. This monumental masterwork is by Hakuin (1685–1768), the best-known Zen Master of the last 500 years, and Japan’s greatest painter-monk.

Willow Kannon joins LACMA’s other 10 works by Hakuin; these 11 artworks will form the core of a proposed exhibition on Zen art by curator and head of Japanese art at LACMA Robert T. Singer. Gift of the 2018 Collectors Committee with additional funds from an anonymous donor, Laurie and Bill Benenson, and Richard Wayne and Charlotte Wayne.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Jean Michel Basquiat's Taenghwa


Jean Michel Basquiat's image (top, left) reminds me of the warrior / knife-riding general spirit Janggung (right) from Kim Keumhwa's shrine at Keumhwa-dang on Kangwhado, S. Korea and another (below, left) the mudang ancestor Seongsu daeshin from Yoon Yeosul's book Searching for Origin of Folk Religion -- Painting of Shamanism. (원형을 찾아서 토속신앙의 巫俗畵|, 2004, Seoul: ICOM).


Coincidence? Perhaps, but I am more than ever convinced that Basquiat "saw" spirits. 
Perhaps he thought no one else knew their identities. How wrong he was!

Here's another set, including Kim Keumhwa  (right) officiating at a gut ritual featuring the Taegam, spirit of a government official. I particularly like the piece by Basquiat (left) as it illustrates the layering of costumes that a shaman may wear in the course of transitioning from presenting one spirit in quick succession after another. 

 Below you can see many "antique" taenghwa, spirit paintings, in Kim Keumhwa's pantheon. For more information about Korean shaman painting, please see my review of God in Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings by Laurel Kendall, Jongsung Yang and Yul Soon Yoon. (Honolulu. University of Hawaii Press. 2015) in Kyoto Journal #90 (February 2018).

For more information about Jean Michel Basquiat, I am happy to direct your attention to the wonderful resource Artsy

Monday, December 4, 2017


Portraying a likeness of "God" in any form, much more so anthropomorphic renderings, has long been prohibited -- and that vastly debated --  in Jewish tradition, based upon an interpretation of the "graven image" commandment. Islam picked it up; other traditions, who fear idolatry or that such a likeness might steal the soul from the person have related mandates. Not so when it comes to Korean Shamanism.

Unlike most books about Korean shamanism in English language primarily focused on the lives of shamans (mudangs) and their ritual performances, God in Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings by Laurel Kendall, Jongsung Yang and Yul Soon Yoon, discusses the creation and utility of the physical materiality of ritual artworks (taenghwa), and the rising number of institutions (a few museums and their curators and conservators) and individuals (dealers and collector of ethnographic materials) who have opened up the market for these objects.

This relatively small, illustrated and well-considered text is described as “both a study of material religion that takes seriously the use of paintings inside Korean shaman practice and a study of the circulation of shaman paintings from sacred to secular space, exploring the motivations and activities of dealers and collectors, a subject of interest in museum and material culture studies.”

Koreans for the most part have yet to romanticize their past, given the century of cultural and political devastation during the majority of the 20th century. Kendall[1], an American anthropologist who has many books about Korean shamanic culture to her credit, is chair of the Division of Anthropology and curator in charge of Asian Ethnographic Collections at the American Museum of Natural History and president (2016-17) of the Association for Asian Studies. Yoon established the Gahoe Museum[2]  for his folk art collection in the Gahoe neighborhood north of Insadong in Seoul, and previously self-published the predominantly bilingual (Korean – English)  Searching for Origin of Folk Religion – Painting of Shamanism[3], full of colored imagery of a multitude of spirits and brief explanations of their identities. The former curator of the National Folk Museum of Korea, Yang now operates a Museum of Shamanism, also in Seoul, as a place where shamanism may be observed in practice. The most frequent visitors to these establishments, Yang notes, are shamans themselves who express pride and wonder at what they see there.

As we learn from these scholars’ thoughtful reflections, taenghwa, painted portraits of iconic images of  the pantheon of spirits that populate the back walls of gutdang / shindang (ritual or spirit rooms), are not simply reflections of ubiquitous characters from cultural history (judges, saints, military and civil officials, venerable ancestors, spirits of the mountains and sea, etc. embellished with other auspicious symbols including the elixir of life, mushrooms, turtles, dragons, the seven-star constellation, pine trees, bamboo, a body of water in forest, tigers, etc.), but are potent catalytic partners with the officiants in the ritual outcome. The authors postulate there is a “triangulation among shaman, god and painting.” These painted, seemingly folk art-like 2-dimensional works on paper were created by artists (not usually the shamans themselves) for the express purpose of the shaman’s engagement with the painting’s “gaze,” thereby to enable the spirit to be present in the ritual space/time. In short, they reference taenghwa as “divine prosthesis”.

Strung together from their tops into a multi-paneled montage behind an altar, often overlapping each other until only the faces are visible, in the ritual they form the wall behind the altar table festooned with offerings. The shamans’ costumes (changed often during the long rituals) and props are echoed in the uniforms and other paraphernalia used by officiants who seek communion and their mystical intercession in the course of multiscene productions. At the end of the ritual, unless affixed to the back wall, the taenghwa will be removed and stored until the next opportunity.

While some taenghwa looked brand new (and may have been newly commissioned by the shaman through a patron’s generous donation for the ritual service) they can also be “antiques” weathered through use (unfolding, hanging, refolding for storage etc.). In some rare cases, I have seen full murals affixed to walls where various highly stylized portraits, including women in traditional “male” roles, share a common landscape in the background. Interestingly, I have seen several images created by Jean Michel Basquiat, an extraordinarily talented American artist who died young, that are remarkably similar in character to the taenghwa of the Hwanghae-do tradition! Please refer to another article in this blog:  Basquiat's Spiritual Portraits


To twist a Zen metaphor, these are not necessarily the moon’s reflection in a pond on a dark night, but the very presence of the moon itself. Here is an example:

In 2000 I had the opportunity to be the guest of Kim Keumhwa, Korea’s naramansin, in her home and to travel with her group, Seohean Pungeoje, the Society for the Preservation of West Sea Rituals, from Hwanghae-do. Toward the end of the second of four weeks, Songsaengnim took me to Gangwha-do, the island near the DMZ off the West Sea where she now has a culture center. We stayed for two days at a small retreat center at the base of Manisan mountain that was operated by some kind of institute dedicated to Dangun, the mythical founder of Korea and a Sanshin / mountain spirit of the highest order. I was baffled by her effort to pay homage to a large, framed (glass, metal) painted image of the mountain spirit (a wizened old man with a tiger and young attendant) that was up a pathway on the north side of Manisan Mountain peak, when we could actually at minimum address the spirits of the peak in front of us. It was not an original painting, nor did it seem to be an old artifact, yet she carried offerings (fruit, candles, incense and water) and adorned the ledge in front of the image. She began to chant and invited me to share her homage through bowing and offering incense. Later we hiked up to where the Chamseongdan (altar) is sited, where Dangun is said to have offered sacrifices to the heavens.


Shamans come by their taenghwa in several possible ways. Of course, Hwahghae-do shamans have to have been endowed through initiation, vision, dream, etc. to make the connection with particular spirits. Then it is the matter of securing the artwork. Since the earliest days (before printing presses!) paintings have been produced by dedicated artists (usually not the shamans themselves) from a shaman’s description of a vision. Unlike many painters who also may paint images for Buddhist temples, traditional Hwanghae taenghwa painters maintain a singular clientele among initiates of that charismatic lineage; they do not sign their work. 

I was very happy to learn more from the authors about the lineage of artist An Sung-sam (pictured, I'd be happy to ask for permission from the source of this image, but it won't reply.), whose late son An Chong-mo, and now granson (don't know the name) have carried on his vocation. Their great/grandmother was a Hwanghaedo shaman, like the elder An’s colleague Kim Keumhwa. An Sung-sam was one of three (with Mansinnim and Choi Eum Jon, the late ritual jango drummer) deemed to be important intangible cultural assets of Korea. However, the authors state that, unlike venerable brush paintings and calligraphy of the Japanese Zen tradition, “No shaman painting has yet to be designated as a national treasure.” Facing the decline of the marketplace, the artists who are personally regarded and have the reputation of being endowed with a spiritual connection, may likely disappear.

Judging from the styles of Songsaengnim’s taenghwa, several artists were responsible for creating them.The oldest ones seemed to be painted with tempera on cardboard or brown kraft paper (a material that was produced industrially in Korea after the war and was as much rendered into paper bags as it was as a surface for Dansaekhwa artists of the Minimalist movement); the ones permanently mounted on the walls in her shrine rooms in Seoul and Gangwha-do were more likely acrylic and enlivened with the addition of gold leaf in some areas. The now deceased elder An was also responsible for many of the hand-painted tissue paper elements that adorned Kim Keumhwa’s altars for rituals and in her permanent altars in her private shrines. Some seem quite old, but it is hard to know their age, etc.

Other shamans, especially younger ones with less notoriety, may resort to patronizing shops specializing in ritual paraphernalia where they may acquire mass produced taenghwa with images “typical” of the geographically-specific ritual styles. I once visited such a shop in the neighborhood of KimKeumhwa’s home. I was very careful not to be too interested in the goods in as much as my obvious presence in the  otherwise no-tourist environs might be cause for embarrassing gossip that I might be shopping for shaman “power” tools; this would cast negatively on my host.


Perhaps some of the most interesting narrative in the book relates to what happens when a shaman ceases to use/need/want a taenghwa or when the taenghwa no longer wants to be part of that shaman’s pantheistic community:

“The god takes up a seat in the painting, but not always; the god inhabits the painting in the shrine but sometimes departs; the god agrees to cohabit with other gods in a shrine but sometimes refuses.”

The shaman is left with no other choice than to remove the taenghwa. Given their materiality, what is the appropriate way for a shaman to decommission / dispose of them. If the images have / are spirit, what becomes of it? “For most of the 20th Century, shamans generally followed the traditional practice of burning old and tattered paintings after ritually reanimating them,” the authors note. When the paintings of the first Korean shaman I met – Los Angeles 1990 about who I wrote an article for Kyoto Journal – had been destroyed in a flood (they were packed up, not used), the remnants were burned. The ashes were carried by us into the local mountains where we discarded them in a wooded auspicious spot, “Think of your mother,” she admonished me, with no explanation given. Unlike calligraphy scrolls used in Japanese tea ceremony which may be centuries old and are valued accordingly to their longevity, Korean shaman artworks are extremely fragile and were not meant to necessarily be employed forever, much less collected.

Again, the authors recount fascinating stories about certain mischief (or worse) caused by improperly discarded or abandoned taenghwa. “The god operates miraculously or problematically, through a de-animated and hidden painting.” Do they have a “half-life” of empowerment?


The authors address the more recent attempt to commodify taenghwa works and explain the complexities of another triangulation of dealers, collectors, shamans, less often the artists who created the works.   

There is well-considered discussion about the ways that a “collector’s lens” might distinguish what is desirable as an image, what Korean cultural qualities can be conveyed through this art form, etc. 
Of course, there is great interest on the part of scholars to study ethnography and to have material works with documented provenance can be of great value, as the authors’ own professional affiliations attest. One doesn’t see many shaman paintings displayed in Korean museums, and certainly not in the National Museum of Korea!

Very few museums outside Korea collect or display works of “art” created for and used by shamans. In addition to AMNH, USC’s Pacific Asia museum is a notable exception as a result of the efforts of Yeonsoo Choi, then assistant curator, and has welcomed Kim Keumhwa to demonstrate a sample of her rituals in conjunction with the donation of some objects to the museum’s permanent collection. No doubt the provenance of Kim Songsaengnim’s objects will vault them into a higher “value,” nonetheless, will they command the same level as Basquiat’s works? 

 This brings us to the notion of the independent, private collector of material cultural artifacts who may have to resort to working with dealers with connections to shamans and never actually meeting the artist, who may be alive. The primary collectors of Korean shaman painting are themselves Korean with a “bent toward nostalgia for a not-to-distant rural past.” Much like the romancing of provenance that a collector of Japanese ceremony utensils might show in the course of the ritual or in a display case, the shaman paintings have an “object biography”. Yet again, the history of Korea would not be very kind to the paintings, much less the shamans themselves who were persecuted. Ritual spaces were usually erected in situ and quickly dismantled, with the various paraphernalia, including elaborate wall-sized arrangements of icons, packed up and sometimes even abandoned.

Imagine my surprise a decade ago when I entered a Korean “antique” shop in Los Angeles’ Koreatown[4] when I spotted a colorful tempera painting on cardboard of an old man with a tiger and young boy; it was hanging by fabric strings from the back of an abandoned dining room chair amidst other disparate furniture. “Buddha!” said the proprietor, an oldish man in a worn golf jacket and a baseball cap, noticing my interest and figuring that I was an uninformed Caucasian woman. “Ah, Buddha! Nice Buddha. Umm,” I replied, knowing full well, however, that it was not Buddha, but a taenghwa  of Sanshin, a Korean mountain spirit, rendered for a shaman’s shrine. I retreated back into the shop as nonchalantly as I could, knowing that any interest that would inflate prices. I eventually found 10 other abandoned portraits of other traditional Korean shaman spirits rolled into a bundle with their strings hanging out jammed on a shelf next to empty picture frames. I made a mental commitment to this Sanshin that I would liberate him (and a trio of fortune-telling mudangs) from this soul-less place, if only to make it possible for their true identities to be reinstated.


As noted above, in some cases the taenghwa are formally affixed to the walls. David Mason’s extensive research into the mountain spirit images enshrined in Korea’s temples, shrines, rock faces and even real and artificial caves, grottoes is unsurpassed. Both his book Spirit of the Mountains: Korea’s SAN-SHIN and Traditions of Mountain-Worship (1999, Elizabeth New Jersey and Seoul Korea, Hollym. Editions in English and Korean languages) and ever-evolving website provide great insight into the artistic techniques and imagery as well as significance of this particular spirit’s presence throughout Korea. The artists, for the most part, remain anonymous, but the images are beloved by Buddhists, Taoists, NeoConfucianists and Shamanists alike. He notes, in addition to the mountain spirit, major Buddhist temples’ have a shrine buildings that often includes Samshin, three spirit shrine, that includes images of Chilseong and  Doksong, the Seven Stars / Big Dipper and Lonely Saint, respectively. His book explains the symbolism and relationships within spiritual hierarchy.

Other sources of information on the topic:

Yoon Yeosul's book Searching for Origin of Folk Religion -- Painting of Shamanism. [원형을 찾아서 토속신앙의 巫俗畵|, 2004, Seoul: ICOM] has excellent images and is mostly in Korean language. His Gahoe Museum is well worth a visit, as is Jong-sung Yang’s Museum of Shamanism which functions more as a living laboratory of Korean native spirituality. An extensive article may be found at the first issue of the Korean Art Society Newsletter, as well as an earlier article that I wrote on this subject.

My article about the late Dr. Zo Zayong for Kyoto Journal #36, 1997, (reprinted ) explores the work of this artist / collector / scholar / author and architect whose life was filled with the profound beauty of Korean spirit imagery. His Emile Museum in Seoul and later moved to become the basis of Samshin Hoegwan Songnisan near Po’un was a huge collection of works on paper, in stone, wood and other materials. Most of the collection was sold to the Samsung Leeum, I’ve been told. Dr. Zo was also a patron of the local villages who still worshiped their resident spirits and often helped them create new iconic works to this end.

[1] This link goes to Professor Kendall’s lecture:
[4] -- Korean Art Society Journal.Don’t Buy the Buddha!”. Vol. 1 (2009)

Monday, November 27, 2017

What's Scarier Than A Nuclear Bomb: A Woman's Period!

The fear men have of menstruating women has not yet abated in the souls and imaginations of those who do truly fear it. We are well past the border of tolerance.

When the Taliban fled to their remote caves in Afghanistan, I was trying to think of what I might do to keep them there. We don't need to travel long distance any more. We have those who fear menstruating women in our midst, from the tippy top of the federal government to our next-door neighbors.

I propose to bomb and surround them with used "feminine" menstrual padding ... pretty simple.

They will not cross the line. Free. Harms no one. Caters to their deepest fears (yay!) and is a renewable commodity.

Lord knows! Any "Lord". Every "Lord". Even the little "lords".

I know you have questions about reloading. Here are some actual answers.

Are (ahem) feminine products available [at Disneyland] restrooms?
It says in the restrooms that things are available at City Hall but I have no idea what they have.
You could also go to the little Casino supermarket which is to the left of the train station, just before the entrance to the park, they would probably have things there and maybe a wider choice.

Here's another tip if you're bound for the Magic Mousedom.

Good way to get rid of those toxin-carrying "hygiene" necessities!

I've read that "tampons" are out among young women these days. What's a defense contractor to do with stores of them for the newly-entered fighting force of women combatants?  There's a consumer war going on ... welcome to the new battlefield!

I'm just reporting.

Nothing Lost ... Somethings Gained: Found in Translation - Design in California and Mexico 1915 - 1985

Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915 - 1965 is one of LACMA's offerings in the Getty-sponsored festival of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.
PST LA/LA... (hey, pssssssssssssssssst! over here! 
 Never say la-la, as in tra- ...!

This exhibition does much more than clear up the ruse of Olivera Street (set up as a tourist attraction like Chinatown LA). It honors, not just disparages, the mutual admiration society between CA and ME!

Being a child of the post-WWII era, an early consumer of television and having emigrate from the Mid-Atlantic region in the late 1970s to CA, the show strikes a familiar chord of cultural sensibility, but now I can see the back-story of what was projected as the "goldene medina" of my mediated youth. I will now admit to having drawn a serape-d/sombrero-d "Mexican" propped up against a saguaro sleeping in the noonday sun in a mural in middle school. 

What did I know? I was brought up in Philadelphia area in the age of TV!
California was once part of Mexico and which was a Spanish colony. The very soil, the ocean, the forests and mountains, the weather and the sun ... above all, the sun! The indigenous people were not waiting to be discovered! They were also not consulted when design images were attribute to them. It is still hard for me to eat lettuce and grapes, given what I learned about the Chicano Movements ... Woody Guthrie was right. California was and remains the "Garden of Eden", and we sill need, more than even, the Do-Rey-Mi!

It's a full range of design and architecture dialogues between California and Mexico from 1915 - 1965. The more I visit this exhibition (and tour school kids to show the Portrait of John Dunbar, by Diego Rivera), the more I learn, such as the fact that Ruth Asawa, a participant in the Black Mountain College art/community experiment, learned how to weave wire into sculptures in Mexico! I was already familiar with Peter Shire's work, and love the inclusion of his "Mexican Bauhaus Tea Pot".

The Mexico / USA California split in 1804 never left either wish a sore spot in term of design sensibilities. There has been a natural trickle up and down effect for a long time despite efforts to appropriate imagery and disseminate stereotypical impressions via the then "new" media as photography, wire audio recorders and movies and later TV. There was and continues to be a "mutual admiration society" among the colonialists. There are a few indigenous pieces, but mostly this is a celebration of conquest.

The triptych (right) includes (l-r) LACMA's Standing Male Figure with Club" a (200 BCE - 400 CE) slip painted earthenware acquired in 1986 and Dora De Larios (b1933, active Los Angeles) "Warrior (mid-1960s) and "Blue Dog" (1979). I couldn't help but chuckle, as they reminded me of 2 pieces in the permanent collection on the top floor of the Pavilion for Japanese Art. (l-r) "Seated Figure" and "Horse", both Haniwa (tomb figures) from the Late Tumulus Period (4th and 5th Centuries, CE). 

#FoundinTranslation @ #LACMA has opened as one of the PST/LALA offerings around town thanks to the #Getty. It's a full range of design and architecture dialogues between California and Mexico from 1915 - 1965.

Klingon: The Art of Inventing a Language

The Final Frontier Forever"
(originally published 2013)
Since the beginning of time: 2161, or at minimum, over 40 Earth years ago when Gene Roddenberry launched the Star Trek enterprise, the crafty creators of races and galaxies, technologies and tools have been hard at work to transform everyday Earthlings into a Trekkies worthy of citizenship in the United Federation of Planets.
The Star Trek franchise builders have not been content to merely dabble in pop culture and fantasy storytelling. Now over 40 million human fans world-wide have access to powerful tools to cross the media threshold and interact with other weekend wanna-be warriors by learning to speak and read the Klingon language.

The master-mind (and mouth) of the Klingon language is linguist Dr. Marc Okrand, author of Conversational Klingon, the definitive audio book, the Klingon Dictionary, among others. A specialist in an extinct language of a people of Northern California, Okrand was making a living over-dubbing and subtitling for the film industry when he was brought into the Star Trek picture, literally. His first task was to create just four lines of otherwise non-extant Vulcan in post-production of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan to match the actor’s English language lip movements as an over-dub.

Brought back to work on Star Trek III The Search for Spock, this time in the scriptwriting phase, he decided to formally create an entire new language from scratch, complete with grammar and vocabulary as well as an inventory of sounds, Klingon at once needed to reference the history and current world view of the inhabitants of that distant galaxy. No detail was overlooked.

Since then, new stories and new characters have been blending into those earlier “realities”, necessitating the development of Klingon’s greater linguistic complexity. Klingon further morphed as fans began try to speak and write it in their ordinary, 21st Century Earth-bound lives. There are also lexicons and grammars created by fans, such as the online program “battle tested” at the Klingon Language Institute that has attracted many adherents and many efforts to compile English – Klingon dictionaries.

While Microsoft’s Bing search engine identifies 1,060,000 entries for “translate Klingon”, now, in cooperation with Paramount and the Klingon Language Institute, Bing offers written translation from many languages into both the “original” Klingon script as well as Roman and Hindu-Arabic characters. It seems that Bill Gates’ team has been considering how to do this for a long time, and released it in time for the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness. There are no coincidences!

While we at Acclaro have yet to receive a request for translation into Klingon, we salute the Trekkies who have delved into learning the language for themselves. To you, we say majQa’…well done!