Field Notes: The Inspiration For Gukje Market

Beba SchlottmannGoing Places, Inspirational, Other Writings, Recommendations 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, I was able to spend some time wandering around Seoul while being introduced to several artists in the area. Though most of them were classmates of my dear artist friend, Yang Yun Jeong, others were artists who exhibit their work together at several local galleries. On this specific day, the group was having a meal to welcome new members, and I happened to be invited as a guest of Yun. After the meal, I went to the gallery to view the current exhibition. Among the pieces, there was one in particular that caught my attention. That one-of-a-kind art piece belonged to master ceramist and potter, Eunjoo Kim. It had a unique appearance, and as I observed the raku piece for a while, I began to ponder about the artist’s inspiration behind the work.

When we were done for the evening, it was this very artist, Eunjoo Kim, who kindly offered to take me home. While driving towards Itaewon, I took the opportunity to ask her the questions that had previously been swirling around my mind. It was no surprise to me that her art comes from a deep sentimental attachment to her roots. I was moved as she lovingly talked about her father, who was a master potter by trade as well as her role model and teacher. I asked her about her extraordinary piece that seems to bleed through as if holding a deep secret, oozing its sorrow out like a volcano. She shared her inspiration with me, revealing that it had to do with the bleeding heart of her family as they were forced to endure much pain and sorrow after fleeing from North Korea during the war.

When we said our goodbyes, she gave me the pamphlet for her exhibition were I could read the story in more detail. I’m not going to lie, when I read it later in my room, I became emotional and tears were shed. It caused me to think about my own father and the hardships he experienced in his younger days. It also made me grateful for the life I have been given. I am certainly blessed, and I need to live my life expressing gratitude in the decisions I make while valuing the people and things that really matter.

I thought the story was too beautiful not to share with you. And so, here it is in Eunjoo Kim’s own words:

My father’s family fled to South Korea from Sinuiju. They met relatives who came to South Korea earlier through the Amnokgang Defector’s Association located at a shanty town in Cheonggyecheon. They had to go to Busan to flee from the Korean War. In Busan, they had to go to the ‘Gukje Market’ to earn their living and it was the beginning of their exhausting life.

My father occasionally wandered Jungsng-dong Stairs to hear news about elder sisters whom he left in North Korea. Whenever he came home without any news, he wore a smile like a cloud to hide his tears from his old mother. My father, who didn’t talk much but was very humorous and had strong affection for his family, has now already passed away. But Aunt, who is the last relative staying with me, is over 80. When they were young, they didn’t know how beautiful flowers were and they let their brilliant fragrances waft heedlessly on the wind. My aunt became a wilted flower and I really miss my father who became a grey color.

On that day, I met my family members who were born as flowers again at my workroom. When the country is reunified, I will get on a train and cross the Bridge of Freedom with the Panmunjeon Declaration. I will pass Gaeseong and Pyongyang to go to Sinuiju, a city which I have missed so much. At that time, I will hold the most beautiful wrinkled hands of my aunt tightly and visit my grandfather, grandmother, father, great aunt, my grandfather’s younger brother who lived in Seoul, and my father’s younger brother on a train which won’t stop forever.

-April 27, at my workroom, on a bright day.

You can find Eunjoo Kim at:

Instagram: @eunjoo0129

Comments 2

  1. Her pieces are interesting and sure enough shows pain., nevertheless, very originals. Thank you for sharing Kim story.

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