A few days ago, I paid a visit to The Kokdu Museum, a small and charming museum here in Seoul devoted to the Korean tradition of kokdu, or painted wooden figures created to accompany the deceased on their treacherous journey through the afterlife. These figures would be placed--by the dozen, as it appears--on the ornate traditional funeral biers which carried the dead to their final resting place. From what I understand, all of the pieces on view in the museum were created in the late Joseon Dynasty, which dominated Korea from 1392 – 1897.
The kokdu figurines, as the museum text explains, are other-worldy creatures intended to assist the deceased in their transition through the afterlife. Some are guides, some protectors, some entertainers. They help to "soothe and calm our bewildered emotions while traveling the path of bereavement..." so long as the deceased "still remains in the area of between the 'already' and the 'yet.'"
Dragon and goblin heads are placed on the front and the back of the bier. The are intended to frighten evil spirits and signify the circularity of life and death.
The museum also had a wonderful miniature diorama depicting a funeral procession.
And a terrific (though small) temporary exhibition entitled "Afterlife, The Journey to the Other World." As the wall text explained:
The exhibition "Afterlife, The Journey to the Other World," was derived from traditional Korean belief, called Siwangsasang, which described that the deceased must go through ten after-death trials about his/her previous life.This exhibit allowed visitors to travel through the afterlife, meeting each King of Hell and discovering both what traits he would judge you on and what were the possible punishments. Each stop on the journey was illustrated by traditional artworks depicting these Kings and their punishments as well as images from the "With God" web comic.
Among those ten were seven commonly known trials, and people counted those days accordingly and had a memorial ritual on the 49th days of death.
Joseon dynasty was a strictly Confucianist era which greatly valued filial duites. Other religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shamanism were able to retain their power because Joseon people saw a great deal of filial duties in ancestral rites.
By studying Joseon dynasty (1392-1910)'s religious movement, we've learned that all these different religions and cultures melted in together and brought our culture a cultural synergy, which is known as the Medici Effect.
It is very interesting to learn how all these different religions and cultures combined and developed a new cultural nuance on the subject, the other world.
As mentioned earlier, this exhibition is based on these cultural influences regarding the other world and the afterlife. This exhibition was also greatly influenced by "With God," a web cartoon that depicts this other world as an interesting and realistic place.
With "With God" and KOKDU MUSEUM's old antiquities, this exhibition also introduced augmented reality technique and media art so that visitors can experience a mixture of art and science throughout the show.
You can find out more about the The Kokdu Museum, by clicking here. Thanks very much to Professor Choi Tae Man of Kookmin University for recommending this museum to me!
For those interested in finding out more, I purchased a book from the museum--in English!--which will be available for viewing at The Morbid Anatomy Library when it reopens in early October.