Hallyu! The Korean Wave at the V&A
The huge surge of interest in Korean culture that has flooded the world in recent years has a name: hallyu, which translates as “Korean wave”. This movement is now influential enough to justify a dedicated exhibition at the V&A – the first of its kind – where a mix of costumes and historical objects, but also funky displays of light, video and music, catapult visitors into the K-dimension. Speaking of the exhibition, museum director Tristram Hunt notes that the rise in the country’s cultural output is a reflection of South Korea’s political transformation. He commends the country’s rapid ascension from war-torn nation to leading powerhouse of modernity, and he attributes this success to the government’s substantial support and investment in the creative industries.
The exhibition is divided into five sections, which curator Rosalie Kim hopes give an insightful enough introductory picture of the concept, while also satisfying hardcore fans of the movement. Visitors are greeted with the mega hit Gangnam Style by Psy playing on a loop on a set of screens. This playful introduction is followed by a summary of Korea’s modern history (from 1910 to the 1990s) with the key moment being the country’s decision to invest in new technologies – a gamble that paid off and also contributed to the expansion of the film and TV industries, represented in the next section. A highlight of this room is a reconstruction of the dingy bathroom seen in the Oscar-winning film, Parasite, but there are also costumes from Netflix hit series Squid Game, and an overview of the most popular movies and K-dramas.
A large part is dedicated to the explosion of K-pop music, a phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the rapid spread of social media and digital culture. Some more is dedicated to K-beauty, where the history of the country’s innovative cosmetic products is traced, and, lastly, there’s a look at fashion and the way traditional costumes and modern styles have been merged (an example is the Adidas Originals collection by Ji Won Choi, combining sportswear with elements of traditional wear, such as the goreum ribbons).
This is perhaps the fact that makes Hallyu! The Korean Wave such an enticing experience: there is a tendency to marry tradition and innovation in a way that feels natural and effortless, with influences from all over the world thrown into the mix. A sense of fun and freedom pervades this celebration of a country that has succeeded in becoming a global trendsetter, and whose influence will likely grow to even greater heights.
Hallyu! The Korean Wave is at the V&A from 24th September until 25th June 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.