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INTERVIEWEveryone's story is worth being remembered: Moryham CEO

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Choi Na-young, the founder and CEO of Moryham, poses during an interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday, at the company's studio in Jung District, central Seoul. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Choi Na-young, the founder and CEO of Moryham, poses during an interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday, at the company's studio in Jung District, central Seoul. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Moryham helps people cherish their stories via traditional art method

By Lee Gyu-lee

Inside a warm orange-brownish brick building located near Myeong-dong, central Seoul, lies a white modern space, filled with pieces of equipment and materials for Moryham to turn the stories of people into an art piece with a twist of the traditional.

Founded in 2019, Moryham offers a service that designs and makes a custom-made shadow box out of clients' personal belongings, framed using "pyogu," a traditional framing technique for mounted paintings.

"(Through us) your story becomes art. When you think of art, you may think that it has to be excessively embellished, worth a lot or be something accomplished or prevailing. But the truth is when you have your story and if you have an important, precious memory, say, in a small water bottle, this becomes irreplaceable art," Moryham founder and CEO Choi Na-young said in an interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday, at the company's base in central Seoul.

"Instead of chasing after a new trend, by taking a moment to reflect on the story and its values that you cherish, you can feel good about yourself and be reminded of your self-worth," she added.

Moryham designs and makes a custom-made shadow box using a traditional framing technique. Courtesy of Moryham
Moryham designs and makes a custom-made shadow box using a traditional framing technique. Courtesy of Moryham

The 36-year-old CEO, who used to work at tech giant Kakao, where she curated its online gift shop platform, shared that she hit a turning point when her mother passed away a few years ago.

"Losing someone close so suddenly has changed everything and made me rethink (life) … It made me look back on everything about myself and think about what really matters, as well as what I can do meaningfully," she said, adding that it led her to quit her decade-long career at the IT company to find her own way.

"That was the moment that made me think that now is the time to take a challenge and do something different," she said.

She came up with the idea of the business as a way to help bring out people's personal and special stories with a touch of Korean flair.

"I wanted to take the shadow box and put it in the Korean traditional style, so I thought of pyogu," she said. "The technique has been passed down for a very long time, about 1,800 years, so it was very Korean, it has a legacy and wisdom, and is proven technically. So I thought it would be a way to make the frame durable and long-lasting."

So she jumped into the unfamiliar field, literally knocking on the doors of pyogu technicians along the allies of Insa-dong.

A folding screen made by Moryham / Courtesy of Moryham
A folding screen made by Moryham / Courtesy of Moryham

Pyogu is a traditional technique specifically important and suitable for conserving traditional Korean-style paintings that use materials like ink and thin paper, hanji, or silk. It ranges from the basic process of mounting the painting to putting it into a frame, which consists of a wooden panel as a backboard to prevent it from becoming damp.

After learning and training for about six years, Choi became an official licensed Cultural Heritage Repair Engineer. Along with the custom-made framing, she also offers services to conserve and restore traditional paintings.

Making a personal artwork is an entire process, and every step of the way is important, the CEO emphasized. The clients come into the studio with their belongings for a one-on-one consultation, during which time, she discusses the details from the design to the story that the belongings hold. After about three to four weeks of making the art box, the clients visit the studio in person to pick up the final product.

"The whole process holds a certain value to the clients, and us as well. We talk about the sincere values of capturing other people's stories and what it means to them. Because we are working on each piece for a month, this can never become mechanical," Choi said. "One-on-one meetings and in-person pick-up can seem like hassle, but it's a process that we can't lose."

A picture of a Moryham artwork for a client / Courtesy of Moryham
A picture of a Moryham artwork for a client / Courtesy of Moryham

Through the process, the clients invite Choi into their stories, which allows her to grow attached to each work she completes.

"I remember all (of the clients), even their names and their stories," she said, noting that she especially remembers those who bring in the belongings of the deceased. "It feels like (the process) is offering a sense of comfort to both … we freely talk (on the topic of death) with the deceased's belonging, like, 'Why do I want to frame it?' 'What memories do I have with it?' And by doing so, it's giving them a chance to remember it again."

She expressed that her experiences have led her to expand the business and pursue a new project that will offer a new take on how people look at death and memorials.

The studio is set to open a gallery at the building and hold a two-day opening exhibition next Friday to give a peek into the new funeral project, along with a showing of its clients' artworks in chronological order according to the human life cycle.

"The second floor will show the foundation project of Moryham that captures your story … (On the third floor,) we will be showing a glimpse of an ideal funeral that we hope to actualize sometime in the future as we go further," Choi said, adding that the funeral project display is based on her mother.

Choi Na-young, the CEO of Moryahm, says she finds value in the process of making shadow boxes. Courtesy of Moryham
Choi Na-young, the CEO of Moryahm, says she finds value in the process of making shadow boxes. Courtesy of Moryham

She noted that the exhibition holds two purposes: to revive the spirit of a traditional funeral and to offer a more positive way to remember and pay tribute to the deceased.

"About 20 to 30 years ago, funerals in Korea were held at home. Neighbors and friends would come and if there wasn't the sound of crying, it almost felt like a festival. And this started out of the fundamental way of comforting (those left behind)," she said. "If the memories of the deceased are gone, it becomes as if they have never existed, which makes memories and pays tribute, which is important."

She said that the exhibition will have a piece of her mother's life from things, food, and songs her mother used to enjoy as well as some of her belongings.

"When people come to the funeral and see what kind of life the deceased lived and what kind of person he/she was, the memories of the deceased will live in those people longer, I think," she said.

Lastly, Choi added that she strives for Moryham to become a pronoun to describe the process of sharing one's story, whether through making artwork or through a funeral service.

"I hope Moryham can be present throughout a person's life," she added, "A lot of my clients would say, 'I don't know if this is worth framing,' but I always tell them it is. The process itself is worth it and has stories that we can share. I hope people can experience that process and hope (Moryham) will be the tool and pronoun for it."


Lee Gyu-lee gyulee@koreatimes.co.kr


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