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Creativity of their own presented by artists with mental disabilities

June 29, 2021 - 17:45 By Park Yuna
Installation view of “Shrunken Paper, Expanded World” at the SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art (Courtesy of the museum)

While the art market is hectic with rapidly changing trends, and art fairs have broken sales records over the past few months, there is an exhibition that approaches art more intrinsically, shedding light on the act of creativity itself.

The exhibition “Shrunken Paper, Expanded World,” at the SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art in Nowon-gu, northern Seoul, showcases the work of 22 artists who have developmental disabilities or mental disorders. The artists delved into their own inner worlds and produced original works that are independent from the existing art system. The exhibition brings together 737 artworks and archival materials from the artists. 

"Rapguk Subway” by Kim Dong-hyeon (SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art)

Born in 1993, Kim Dong-hyeon has drawn lines and narrow paths into the infinite distance. The paths seem so fragile that they look as if they are about to fall apart, but they continue tenaciously just like a footpath hidden in the depths of a forest that leads to countless other passages.

The exhibition’s title, “Shrunken Paper, Expanded World,” came from Kim, who gave a striking answer when asked why the roads he draws are all crooked. “It’s because the roads are so long but the paper is shrunken (small),” Kim answered, according to the museum. The artist’s definitive, simple answer became the title of an exhibition that aims to present the nature of art.

The exhibition challenges society’s conventional views on autism. Although autism is widely understood as a condition that causes affected people to cut themselves off from the outside world, the exhibition tweaks the stereotype -- autism is rather to be constantly open to oneself, exploring one’s inner self. The exhibition shows videos next to artworks where the artist appears and demonstrates how they created the works and what they wanted to express through their works.
"Our Lady” by Yoon Mi-ae (SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art)

The participating artists include Kim Jin-hong, who expresses inner fear by drawing shadows; Chung Jong-pil, who constantly draws images of people from memory; Yoon Mi-ae, who produces collages using everyday materials such as newspapers, snack bags and milk cartons; and Cho Yu-kyung, who draws the faces of women using bright colors, including her late mother.

While the exhibition shows a variety of works encompassing drawings, paintings, collages, text and ceramics, the highlight of the show is the “Note Section,” which demonstrates how the artists expressed their creative worlds. The exhibition focuses on the notebooks as archives.

“The exhibition explores the possibility of a new form of life that transcends all practical and physical limitations and exists in its own way, because our lives, too, are so long and so small. This message is constantly delivered through the artists’ works resonating throughout the exhibition,” said Kim Hyo-na, curator of the exhibition.

The exhibition runs through Aug. 22 at the SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art. Online reservations are required in advance through