South Korea is world renowned for its pop culture, however one artist, So-young Kim, is instead choosing to preserve the dying art of traditional Korean calligraphy, also known as 서예 (Seoye). Kim shares her calligraphy with the world by creating engaging live calligraphy performances, where she dresses in traditional Korean attire and the Hanbok and expressively creates large calligraphy pieces. 

In these performances, Kim uses a single brush to integrate her calligraphy with poetry and painted images, sharing a tradition known as Si-seo-hwa. She also adds her flair to these performances by introducing grand gestures resembling dancing more than writing, a move that engages audiences in the otherwise forgotten craft. This addition also allows her practice to embody further the spirit of traditional calligraphy, where meaning is conveyed through embodied gestures and pictorial characters.

By preserving and sharing Seoye, Kim is helping South Koreans maintain their identity while promoting intercultural dialogue. This can increase empathy not only between South Koreans and those from other countries but also between South Koreans of different generations, values, and backgrounds. She highlights their shared heritage and helps them come together to appreciate Seoye. This is why her work is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Reduced Inequalities.

Aside from hosting calligraphy performances, Kim also frequently shows her calligraphy pieces in galleries across South Korea and the world. These pieces always use ink on either prepared canvas or traditional Korean paper. The wall-mounted pieces can either be Si-seo-hwa or ‘simpler’ pure calligraphy pieces that have been composed to resemble abstract art.

So-young Kim (left) and her piece Pinecone Collage at 우당탕탕 전시 A-Z Gallery. Image courtesy of So-young Kim’s website.

In an exhibition at 우당탕탕 전시 A-Z Gallery, Kim also showcased a collage piece titled Pinecone Collage. The piece has a gold leaf-covered pinecone in the middle, with Kim’s calligraphy framing it on almost every side. Underneath this spectacle, the large ink mountain region of Gangneung is splayed across the canvas. For Kim, the piece is about taking something ordinary, a pinecone, and putting it center stage to allow her viewers to appreciate the seemingly inconspicuous details of everyday life—much like how she asks her viewers to appreciate Korean calligraphy.

Piece by So-young Kim exhibited at the Gangneung Museum of Art. Image courtesy of So-young Kim’s website.

To top it all off, So-young Kim also serves as the President of the Gangwon-do Branch Korean  Calligraphy Design Center and has also written a book on her practice. This further attests to her commitment to Seoye, which is to practice it faithfully and ensure its longevity for generations to come. Kim, herself put it, “My ambition is to become a globally recognized calligraphic performer and develop the next generation of calligraphers as an educator.”

Find out more about So-young Kim’s calligraphy and other initiatives by checking their Instagram @ksycalli.

You've successfully subscribed to Arts Help
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Great! You've successfully signed up.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.