Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies

Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World

Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World

January 30 - March 7, 2007
12-4 daily, except Mondays

Kkoktu (say “gok-too”) are eight to twelve inch tall wood figures that Koreans mounted on funeral biers.

Imaginatively carved and colorfully painted, they represent caretakers, acrobats, musicians, guides, and guards to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. The New York Times wrote, “The thing about these wooden figures, called kkoktu, is that unlike much somber and forbidding mortuary art, many are fun and friendly – even kind of cute.” Most of the figures in the exhibition were carved in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. The kkoktu open a window on a timeless, characteristically Korean attitude towards death, a sophisticated appreciation of the fleeting nature of all experience. Though the gaiety depicted in many of the figurines may seem incompatible with mourning, what they are intended to express is a deep desire that the deceased person will enter the next world surrounded by joy. Again, the New York Times: “Exhibition Organizer Ockrang Kim calls it  ‘a tribute to our ancestors’ optimism and humor’ that they would want the deceased  ‘to journey into the beyond accompanied by boys, girls, men, women, clowns and acrobats.’ She’s got a point. We’ll all be joining that party eventually, and it might be nice to have a few clowns and acrobats, even a monk on a turtle, leading the way.”

Opening and Gallery Talk:

With Curator Patrick Dowdey
January 30, noon
A luncheon buffet will be served

Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Gallery
343 Washington Terrace
Middletown, CT 06459