11 July 2024

Thailand and Korea share no borders and are 6 hours away by plane, yet everything Korean has become part of Thai life including music, food and TV series.  The ties are further strengthened as trade and cultural exchanges grow and now the Thai public can also enjoy an art exhibition “imported” from South Korea at a Bangkok museum.

Thailand’s Fine Arts Department and the National Museum of Korea are currently hosting an exhibition entitled: “A New Encounter : Immersive Gallery of Korean Art “ at the National Museum in Bangkok. The exhibition demonstrates how Thailand and Korea relate to each other, especially where the monarchy and religion are concerned.

“We chose art dealing with the King and Buddhism because it can easily relate to Thailand,” said Korean curator Sumi Yang.

The exhibition features two sections. The first focuses on a new encounter between Buddhist art from Korea and Thailand. Walking into the first exhibition room, visitors are “greeted” by Buddha statues in two corners – one from Korea and the other from Thailand.

Avolokiteshvara Bodhisattva sculptures from Korea, left, and Thailand, right.

The Korean curator chose the 9th century Buddha statue made of granite while his Thai counterpart picked the 7th century Sirijava style Buddha statue made of sandstone for the exhibition. These two sculptures were created by different people and nations and are not from the same era, yet these two images of Avolokiteshvara Bodhisattva evoke the same sense of soothing human souls and offering hope for salvation.

“Granite can be a difficult material to sculpt due to its coarse particles but it was the most common stone in ancient Korean Buddhist sculpture,” Yang said, adding that the sculpture shows bold abstract expressions whereas sandstone sculptures have softer and more delicate expressions.

The 7th century Sirijava style Buddha statue made of sandstone.

Thai and English details about the two Avolokiteshvara Bodhisattva are provided in text format for those who want to learn more about the two statues. For example, details on the statue’s headdress and ornaments of the “Buddha” are given. The Korean sculpture came from the National Museum of Korea while the Thai one is usually exhibited at the Bangkok museum. The Fine Arts Department handpicked the statue for the exhibition.

After learning and experiencing the first section, visitors can move to a relatively more the colourful and “modern” exhibition – two immersive digital video works entitled “Journey of the Soul” and “Royal Procession with the People”.

The video set reconstructs the set of “The Ten Kings of Hell” Buddhist paintings from the Joseon Dynasty (1329-1910) and selected uigwe (the royal protocols of the Joseon Dynasty), which was inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme in 2007, from the collection of the National Museum of Korea.

Video set brings to life ceremonies and traditions of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty.

Rituals and ceremonies of centuries past are brought to life through multi-channel video projection on a panoramic screen, the state-of-the-art work taking people back to the glorious past.

Based on Joseon Dynasty Buddhist paintings, “Journey of the Soul” explores the world beyond physical life as perceived by ancient Koreans. In Buddhism, it is believed that the deceased will be judged by these ten kings over the course of three years. How they will be reborn is determined based on their good or evil deeds during their lives. The immersive digital video reflects that belief – the consequences of good and evil that linger after death. The judgement and rebirth is the intertwining of the past, present and future. This concept is not hard to digest for most Thais who have also learned about karma in Buddhist teaching (dhamma).

Video set brings to life ceremonies and traditions of the Joseon Dynasty.

Those familiar with hit K-series “The Red Sleeve” will also relate to the other video, “Royal Procession with the People”, which vividly portrays magnificent processions by King Jeongjo (1776-1800), the 22nd King of Joseon Dynasty. The King led a royal procession to Hwaseong Fortress in 1795 and another for a banquet celebrating the completion of Hwaseong Fortress in 1796.  The “Royal Procession with the People” presents festive reconstructed images of these majestic and thrilling processions, banquets with music and dance, and intense military training. It invites visitors to travel back to King Jeongjo’s era..

With the state-of-the-art light, colour and grand sound feature on the large-scale panoramic screens, it’s easy to absorb the content, especially the fact that the kingship and “Good & Evil” in Buddhism easily relate to Thai culture too. For those fans of “The Red Sleeve” and other hit period dramas on streaming services, the exhibition is fun and offers yet another way to appreciate Korean culture.

Buddhism through digital art.

A New Encounter : Immersive Gallery of Korean Art “ is on show in room 401 of the Maha Surashinganat Building at the National Museum in Bangkok from now until 21 May 2023.

By Veena Thoopkrajae