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  • Writer's pictureGuy Shababo

Hallyu Exhibition in the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

I just visited the "The Pop Culture We Loved, and Rise of the Korean Wave" in the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History (대한민국역사박물관). An unusual installment in so many ways. It's premise, according to the curator Kwon Gi-jun, is to suggest an answer to the Hallyu question - How was it created and why did it succeed. While Hallyu related, this is by no means a hallyu exhibition.

Our Beloved [] Hallyu - Exhibition Entry Point

The first striking thing about that installment is the physical layout of the space. Layered in concentric circles, the first thing that came to mind was waves in a pond. It forces on the looker a kind of a circular motion with and against the stream of people. At the center of this pond located the most recent K-pop fandom items, but more on that in a second.

Hallyu Exhibition - Wide Range of Videos from the 90s

As a type of history, this is material history: daily items of consumption, arranged chronologically, and as museums tend to do - out of context. The common thread is that these are all items of daily consumption in the making of South Korean popular culture.

Here also lies the second unusual thing about it: Many of the items are Korean in the sense that they were consumed in Korea. Fair enough. A long shelve depicts the Hong-Kong Kong Fu movies that were also popular in Israel at about the same time, with Jackie Chan taking central stage, as he should. Two decades later we see a nice range of Fifth generation Chinese cinema samples, such as Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

Material Culture - TV Sets from the 60s and 70s

And in a sense, this is what it is all about: the shared sense of nostalgia. Looking at the audience rather than the display, it is easy to see how people flock and layer by age groups, each group crooning around their nostalgic period piece. This is also why the amalgamation of cinema, music and paraphernalia makes sense.

At the epicenter of it all, a display of contemporary K-pop, fashioning a wall with K-pop lightsticks (응원봉) ending with the most recent New Jeans. Their lightstick (called "Blinky Bong") was announced on October 2022. A contemporary history exhibition depicting history as it happens, I can't help to think of a story by Borges (On Exactitude in Science).

K-pop torches

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