Koreans have a tradition of creating charming and festively painted wooden dolls. But rather than being placed in a toy box, these joyful figurines of clowns, tigers and acrobats adorn coffins. See seventy-four Korean funeral dolls, known askkoktu— most carved in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and learn about their rich cultural and spiritual meaning. Their costumes and poses reflect the realities of rural Korean village life during a period for which few written records remain. More importantly, the kkoktu are a window on a timeless, characteristically Korean attitude towards death. Though the kkoktus’ gaiety seems incongruous with mourning, they express a culture’s deep desire that the dead enter the next world surrounded by joy— and its appreciation of the fleeting nature of all experience.
Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World was organized by The Korea Society. The works presented are on loan from the permanent collection of the Seoul-based Ockrang Cultural Foundation. Support for the Los Angeles presentation was made possible by the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director’s Discretionary Fund.
The Korea Society Mission
The Korea Society is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization with individual and corporate members that is dedicated solely to the promotion of greater awareness, understanding and cooperation between the people of the United States and Korea. In pursuit of its mission, the Society arranges programs that facilitate discussion, exchanges and research on topics of vital interest to both countries in the areas of public policy, business, education, intercultural relations and the arts. Funding for these programs is derived from contributions, endowments, grants, membership dues and program fees. From its base in New York City, the Society serves audiences across the country through its own outreach efforts and by forging strategic alliances with counterpart organizations in other cities throughout the United States as well as in Korea.