Hallyu (한류) means Korean Wave. Originating in China, it is used to describe popular Korean trends, such as K-pop, K-drama, and Korean food. The first wave of Hallyu included the K-pop group Seo Taiji and Boys, along with the film Parasite.
Whether you enjoy K-pop or not, you will definitely like the Hallyu Exhibition that is currently at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery. It showcases different aspects of South Korea, and the main attraction is probably the model of a K-pop fan’s bedroom, My Universe.
The free exhibition is a collaboration between the National Art Gallery and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Malaysia. It showcases artists such as Jin Youngsun, Bu Kyunghee, and DaViz. It opened on May 1 and ends on September 16, 2023.
When you walk in, you can see what looks like floating papers suspended mid-air. This art piece is called Mastermind: Flip the Mind and the folded paper tiles, or ddakji, represent a popular Korean game. Amongst them, we can see a popular origami game in Malaysia, the Fortune Teller. This is lit up by a neon LED which changes colours, giving the model a cool and futuristic look.
There are also life-size paintings, which are collectively titled Sandiwara Anak Korea. This combines pop culture from Korea and Malaysia. One features films such as the cartoon Ejen Ali, and the hit Korean series, Squid Game, while another features the popular movie, Train to Busan, with images of zombies infiltrating a Malaysian kampung.
There are also interactive exhibits, such as Lock on Lock, which allows people to bring their own padlock, write a message, and lock it onto the metal hearts. This is popular in South Korea, with couples leaving padlocks with their initials on them at different locations like the Namsan Tower in Seoul, or the Han River.
Another fascinating interactive exhibit is Beauty Perception. It features a camera with filters. You can stand in front of it, look at yourself on the screen, and pick the filters you want to use. When you’re done, just hit the Capture button. Your “beautiful” image is then preserved on screen until the next person comes along to interact with the exhibit. It’s a thought-provoking piece of art, seeing as almost all smartphones have a filter and social media is responsible for human-labelled beauty standards.
The highlight of the exhibition must surely be My Universe. The wall features multiple K-pop groups such as BTS, Itzy, Tomorrow By Together, NCT, and Twice. It gets your attention because there are so many things to look at.
Next to this exhibit is the Kpop Bedroom, where a computer plays K-pop music videos, and a shelf holds albums such as Noeasy by Stray Kids. A smaller shelf has K-pop-themed notebooks and there’s a table with stationery with a K-pop-themed chair and special edition K-pop drink cans. Almost everything about the room is K-pop-themed, with the exception of the bedsheets. Even then, there are more posters on the bed and a Blackpink cloth on the pillow.
A room at the back of the exhibition has a huge screen, which plays a traditional dance, Salpuri. The room next to it has art inspired by soundwaves of various BTS melodies, like Spring Day. One of the pieces has the BTS members in their Dionysus stage, as Greek Gods like Dionysus, Apollo, Poseidon, and Athena.
One display, titled Import Wave, features two huge fridges encasing multiple Korean convenience store snacks, and even one or two Malaysian instant foods, like Maggi Mee. Unfortunately, these are not interactive and you can’t taste any of them.
Right next to the snack fridges is a curtained area that blasts music. Inside, there are multiple displays of a concert and Malaysian and Korean streets. Be warned that the displays shift frequently and you may feel dizzy after a while.
Lastly, in the middle of the whole exhibition is a painting of a woman in a traditional Korean Hanbok. This painting is titled Gadis Korea and it was painted by Datuk Mohd Hoessein Enas in 1960. She is serene and beautiful, sitting elegantly looking into the distance. She looks like she could stand up and walk out of the painting at any minute.
Overall, I found the Hallyu Exhibition entertaining, amusing and thought-provoking, with many sights and sounds to entice my senses. As much as everything had something to look at and ponder, I found myself returning to My Universe because of all the posters. They drew me in and there was so much to look at and scrutinise on one wall.
The Hallyu-Korean Wave Exhibition at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery is open to the public until 16 September 2023 from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry is free. Click here for more information.
*** This article was written by Huang NingShan from The Write Teen class by Brigitte Rozario. The class seeks to train teenagers to write non-fiction for the real world. Youngsters are taught to research, think and write about current topics; share their opinions; and feature articles requiring journalism skills.
Cover image by Huang NingShan.