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National museums hold tiger-themed exhibitions

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"Wolhasongnimhojokdo" a painting depicting tigers passing through pine trees from the 19th century of the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom / Courtesy of National Museum of Korea

By Park Ji-won

Two national museums are holding hybrid exhibitions with a tiger theme to celebrate the Year of the Tiger and show how the animal has been viewed by Koreans in the past and present.

The National Museum of Korea (NMK) has been hosting the exhibition "Tiger Arts I" starting Dec. 29, in which 18 paintings, including "Yonghodo," meaning a panting featuring a dragon and tiger, mainly painted in the Joseon era (1392-1910) are being showcased. The exhibition will run through May 1.

"Yonghodo," which is considered to have been made in the 19th century, portrays the tension between tigers, which try to protect Yeouiju, or magic stone, and a blue dragon that tries to steal it from a mountain. The two animals are common subjects of folk paintings and talismans. "Hojakdo," a painting of tiger and magpie, "Wolhasongnimhojokdo," a painting depicting tigers passing through pine trees and "Sansindo," a painting of a mountain god and tiger, are also on display.

"Our ancestors called both tigers and leopards 'tigers.' A tiger has been considered a spiritual animal which wards off evil spirits. When the New Year begins, people put tiger paintings on their doors. The museum hopes people can enjoy the many and varied aspects of the tiger and get inspired by the powerful animal."

The National Palace Museum of Korea designated Ingeom, or tiger sword, as its January curator's choice and started to display two tiger swords from its collection consisting of 22 such words throughout January at its museum in Seoul and through online platforms such as YouTube.

Ingeom is a sword designed for rituals in the Year of the Tiger. As the term "In," symbolizes loyalty and yang (of yin and yang) or outward energy, the sword has been considered an object to ward off evil spirits and as a means to confirm duty between King and servants. The sword has to be made from old iron to prevent corrosion during a specific time ― when it possesses "In" energy.

"Through the complex process of producing Ingeom, the Joseon royal court emphasized warding off evil spirits and preventing calamities, and also the concept of righteousness and the need for the king and his subordinates to fulfill their respective duties," Goh Jun-seong, curator of the museum said in a video, adding that "Ingeom are the product of the ideals of our ancestors who wished to overcome catastrophes and safeguard their principles."

The National Folk Museum of Korea has been holding a special exhibition titled "Land of Tigers" to showcase up to 70 tiger-related objects and documents so that visitors can enjoy the animal's cultural images included in many stories and in the lives of the Korean people from the past to present.

In the exhibition, paintings and photographs such as "Sansindo" used during "Eunsan Byeolsinje," a shamanistic rite praying for wellness by paying a tribute to the dead which was designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage will be on display.

Products, commercial goods and cultural representations inspired by tigers after the late 1980s will be presented as well. They include the mascots of the Olympics held in Korea in 1988 and 2018 and a tiger emblem on the uniform of Korea's national soccer team.

Park Ji-won

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