Lecture Video: God Pictures: Korean Shaman Paintings


In this presentation, a western anthropologist, a Korean folklore scholar, and a Korean art historian describe the different paths and interests that led them to collaborate on their recent book about Korean shaman paintings, God Pictures in Korean Contexts, published by the University of Hawai’i press. Laurel Kendall, Jongsung Yang, and Yul Soo Yoon describe what it is that makes a shaman painting magical or sacred, how they “work” in the sacred setting of a shaman shrine and how, in the late twentieth century, many Korean collectors came to value these erstwhile scary pictures as collectable folk art. This presentation considers the active lives that shaman paintings lead in contemporary South Korea in shaman shrines, on the art market, and in museums, drawing on the different expertise and experiences of Kendall, Yang, and Yoon to provide a rich, full portrait of the complex lives of Korean shaman paintings.

The three authors bring their own distinctive knowledge and experiences to this project. Laurel Kendall and Jongsung Yang have each been studying and associating with Korean shamans for over three decades, Kendall as an American anthropologist, Yang as a Korean folklorist. Yul Soo Yoon is an art historian and an expert on Korean folk and Buddhist painting who has unparalleled knowledge of the history of shaman paintings and the techniques and intentions of those who painted them.

About the Speakers:

Laurel Kendall, chair of the Anthropology Division at the American Museum of Natural History and Curator of Anthropology at the Museum holds a Ph.D. in anthropology with distinction from Columbia University. Her acquaintance with Korea began as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 1970s. She is the author of Shamans, Housewives and Other Restless Spirits, Women in Korean Ritual Life; The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: of Tales and the Telling of Tales, and Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion, which won the Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Yim Suk-jay prize as the best work of Korean ethnography by a foreign scholar. She is currently President of the Association for Asian Studies, 2016-2017.

Jongsung Yang is Emeritus Senior Curator of the National Folk Museum of Korea where he specialized in traditional Korean performing arts and shamanism and where, just before his retirement, he curated the path-breaking exhibition, Mediator between Heaven and Earth—Shaman. He is currently the Director of the Museum of Shamanism, the culmination of a life-long project which opened in 2013. Yang holds a Ph.D. in Folklore from the University of Indiana and has been a journeyman heritage bearer in traditional Korean performing arts. He is the author of Cultural Protection Policy in Korea: Intangible Cultural Properties and Living National Treasures as well as author of numerous articles and reports on Korean shamanism, performing arts, and material culture.

Yul Soo Yoon, the Director and founder of the Gahoe Museum and an authority on Korean Buddhist art as well as folk and shaman painting, holds a Ph.D. from Tongguk University in Seoul. Yoon has been a leading scholar in developing an appreciation for Korean shaman paintings with the larger history of Korean art. He is the author of Folk Painting: Handbook of Korean Art as well as many books and articles in Korean on folk painting and shaman painting and the curator of many exhibitions on Korean folk painting both within and beyond South Korea.

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