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National Hangeul Museum eyes bigger role ahead of 10th anniversary

Touring exhibitions at home and abroad explore dialects, aesthetics of Hangeul

Feb. 29, 2024 - 15:06 By Choi Si-young
A touring exhibition on Hangeul was held at the Korean Cultural Center in Beijing, China in 2023. (National Hangeul Museum)

The National Hangeul Museum is looking to launch several exhibitions this year to boost its presence as the state-run institution prepares to mark its 10th anniversary on Hangeul Day on Oct. 9.

A series of touring exhibitions will take place in cities around the country and abroad year-round, with exhibitions in Korea already underway.

The exhibition “Children in a Happy World of Their Own” kicked off in January in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, the first of five stops in the tour. On display are Hangeul magazines for children published from 1923 to 1935 and documents that reveal efforts to teach Hangeul during the Japanese colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when the authorities repressed Korean culture, including the use of Hangeul.

Songs for children written in Hangeul in the last 100 years, including the viral YouTube song “Baby Shark,” will be revisited in the exhibition “Singing the Colors of Children’s Hearts,” which will open in May.

An exhibition about a song describing Joseon-era spaces around Seoul took place at the National Hangeul Museum in Seoul from September 2023 to February 2024. (National Hangeul Museum)

“Hanyangga: An Ode to Seoul,” which will open in October, will explore a song composed by Hansangeosa in 1844 that describes the royal palaces and surrounding marketplaces. Hanyang is the old name for Seoul used during the Joseon era (1392-1910).

Exhibitions in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, in June and in Jeju City, Jeju Island, in October will include discussions on dialects on the sidelines of the annual festivals there that select the best dialect speakers.

“For us, that’s an opening,” a Hangeul Museum official said of the plan on Thursday. “Having those festivalgoers join the roundtable is what matters. That way we bond around the opportunity to talk about dialects that have been around for a very long time. Discussing how we can preserve and continue their usage is a starter,” the official added.

The Hangeul Museum will hold an exhibition from April to October entitled “On Dialects” featuring collections of literary works and documents that look at the efforts made so far to preserve different dialects.

A children’s magazine showing the use of dialects. (National Hangeul Museum)

“Preserving dialects is part of our job. The exhibition is a testament to the broad efforts towards that goal,” a museum official organizing the show said.

“A culture is lost when its letters get forgotten,” the official added.

Meanwhile, the museum will launch an overseas touring exhibition in Vietnam in May that will travel to Paris in July before ending in Manila, the Philippines, in September.

The touring show entitled “Hangeul Experiment Project” will look at the artistic as well as commercial adaptations of the Korean writing system, presenting videos, graphics and other content that highlight the unique shapes of the 28 letters of Hangeul. The project was launched in 2016.

Fashion designer Lee Chung-chung is one of the artists working with the museum on the exhibition. In Vietnam and Manila, the Korean Cultural Centers will jointly host the show with the museum while the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee is partnering with the museum for the Paris show, which coincides with the 2024 Summer Olympics there.

The annual International Museum Forum will bookend the Hangeul Museum’s plans for this year. The gathering of museum officials, academics and practitioners -- expected to convene sometime after the Hangeul Day holiday -- will discuss the restoration of human dignity and protection of the ecosystems and environment.

The National Hangeul Museum launched the global forum last year, where over 200 participants, including members of the International Council of Museums, discussed the role of language museums amid rapid digitization in all spheres.

“We have to take the initiative to make ourselves known globally, and promoting Hangeul works best if we do that and more. And we have a clear selling point,” a museum official said, explaining that people easily identify with the so-called “Hangeul spirit,” which embraces a love for people, practicality and independence.

The three values are often cited as having motivated King Sejong to create the writing system in 1443. He is said to have explained that Hangeul aimed to enable his subjects to express their concerns easily. He pushed through staunch opposition from elites who feared an erosion of their grip on power once more people were able to read and write.

“My mission is to have the world realize that Hangeul not only links us to the world but also carries universal values,” said Kim Il-hwan, the museum’s director.