There is perhaps no other artifact that captures the richness of Korean cultural heritage as well as Korean traditional attire, known as hanbok. While the origins of hanbok can be traced back millennia to the ethnic origins of the Korean hanbok drawing people, historical records in the form of murals painted during the early period of the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.–A.D. 668) show that Koreans began to wear a modern form of hanbok as early as the fourth century B.C.
The basic design of hanbok comprises of twopieces, an upper and lower garment. The upper garment, the jeogori, is a bolero blouse-like jacket worn by both women and men. For the lower garment, women wear a chima, a full-blown skirt that reaches past the ankles, and men wear a baji, a pair of roomy trousers. On top of these basic garments, a wide variety of accessories and outerwear can be worn for different seasons and different occasions.
What is most astonishing about hanbok is the way in which its form and design have been preserved, despite a time lapse of two thousand years. While the particular style and specific length have undergone changes over the years, the basic appearance of hanbok has stayed intact. In looking at Goguryeo period murals dating from the fourth century B.C., one will see an uncanny resemblance to the hanbok being worn on the streets of modern Seoul.
There was a time when the how to make museum labels and texts in museum shows were matter-of-fact explanations—the artist, title, date, medium, and then a few informative words from the curator. But as exhibitions have become more extravagant, provocative, and controversial, attended by a public that is increasingly diverse, museum staffs face greater challenges in satisfying everybody.
Are the curators considering issues of political correctness, acknowledging suspect sources of funding, fudging facts about a collector’s (or an artist’s) questionable politics or private behavior, or withholding anything that might be relevant to the public’s desire for information? As institutions reach out to broader audiences, the proper nature of wall texts has been provoking debate, and even hostility, among museum factions. All the while, focus groups, audience surveys, and academic studies have been trying to sort it all out.
In the wake of allegations that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted some 40 women, scant attention has been paid to the comedian’s activities as an art collector. But a few sharp-eyed critics did take note of Camille and Bill Cosby’s loan of close to a third of the works in the exhibition “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. In an open letter to the museum published last July on the website Hyperallergic, writer and editor Jillian Steinhauer made the following request: “Remove the portraits of him and the quotes by him, the lines of wall text that make Bill Cosby sound like a kind-hearted family man.” Kriston Capps, writing in the Atlantic, suggested striking the Cosbys’ name entirely from the show.