On the Occasion of the Manga Exhibition: Japanese Manga Since 2000

Kim Sun-jung,
Curator of Artsonje Center

To me, a lover of manga since childhood, Japanese manga has inspired my dreams and hopes. It also had a great impact on shaping my thinking. My friends and I were avid manga readers especially in high school and the stories taught me how to strive hard without giving in to life's hurdles. We talked about the leading characters who, despite having to face numerous adversities, pursued their dreams with hope, lived their lives to the full and finally realized their ambitions. We were at an impressionable age, fretting about school entrance exams and feeling insecure about the future, so the Japanese manga really encouraged us to stay positive. While I was attending university in the 1980s, I preferred Korean manga written by Lee Hyun-se, Park Bong-sung and Huh Young-man over Japanese manga. The three Korean manga artists, who made their debut in the mid-1970s, opted for lifelike comics not only in terms of material and theme, but also in realistic depictions rather than exaggerated images. By doing so, they reshaped the existing notion that manga was meant only for children. Also, Korean manga seemed to be reaching a wider audience than manga from Japan since the former was intended to shape a common awareness of how society should be.

Manga weaves a story through written text and pictures. These are effective elements of communication that can stir up empathy. (Moving visual images known as animation are not included here.) Manga builds up the story structure through words and strengthens the story through pictures. The way the storyline develops through short conversations written in speech balloons is similar to theater and cinema. And the manga artist adds pictures to create unique forms of expression. Through stimulating, solid storylines, it draws the readers' interest in new fields and effectively conveys the relevant knowledge. Also, as manga presents sound, onomatopoeia and movement simultaneously through words and pictures, nonmaterial elements such as wind, fire and water may be manipulated at will. Manga that tries to depict every element that surrounds us can reflect the actual world and at the same time impact the real world. Through our imaginative power, a reality that does not actually exist appears vividly before our eyes.

The exhibition "Manga Realities: Exploring the Art of Japanese Comics Today" held at Art Tower Mito will move on to the Artsonje Center in Seoul and is then slated to travel to Australia and the Philippines. This exhibition looks at the changes in the storylines of Japanese manga in the 2000s by focusing on text and pictures--two major elements in the genre. Solanin, Five Minutes from the Station and Sennen Gaho accurately portray the day-to-day life of Japanese youth today. Solanin depicts the lives of young people in their 20s and readers will empathize with their heartaches. Five Minutes from the Station embraces the changes in the real world and incorporates episodes featuring mobile phones and personal computers. Sennen Gaho was originally published as an online serial. The exhibits remind us of the changes not only in the material that shapes the plot, but also in the way the manga is presented. The contents of other works also mirror the reality surrounding us today. The World God Only Knows focuses on the changing media environment since 2000 and video games; Sugar Sugar Rune deals with sincerity in relationships. This has a unique setting where two young witches compete to become the next queen of the magic world. In No. 5, the leading character frets over his identity in the post-Cold War era, while Children of the Sea touches on the topical issue of ecology. The exhibition also features BECK and Nodame Cantabile which may be regarded as music manga. These two works, also widely known in Korea, show a new potential in manga: depicting the auditory factor, sound, through the visual factors of text and pictures. In BECK, in particular, a scene of a band concert is projected on three screens. By eliminating the sound, the scene effectively shows the manga's intention to present music visually.

Why do we exhibit manga at art museums? Of the two elements of manga - text and pictures - the latter and its various modes of expression may give an insight into the new potential of manga as popular culture. Beyond doubt, people are taking a fresh look at the manga genre. Yet in Korea, its status is not yet on par with the public support it garners and the artistic value of the pictures and text. Despite the fact that various institutional approaches, such as organizing manga competitions and setting up manga-related faculties at universities, have been made since the early 1990s to foster the manga industry, manga exhibitions have not been held at Korean art museums as often as in Japanese museums. This is because manga had been regarded as a type of subculture and not as a genre that merits a place in art museums. Our intention, then, is to present nine manga works and illustrate the artistic potential of manga and its prospects as a medium of communication. In the past, the Artsonje Center program had been limited to general art exhibitions. With this manga exhibition, the center will expand into popular culture. Japanese manga features local traits but also functions as a universal language. I hope this exhibition will present an opportunity for people living in this present moment to discover their dreams--just I did when I was young.

Sunjung_Kim.jpgKim Sun-jung

Seoul-based independent curator

While introducing Korean modern art to the world since the 1990s, she has organized exhibitions in Korea to present trends in international modern art. She was vice curator of Artsonje Museum in Gyeongju and Artsonje Center in Seoul (1993-2004), and commissioner of the Korean pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2005). Since 2006, she has organized the modern art festival Platform Seoul. She held the post of artistic director of the 6th Seoul International Media Art Biennale titled "Media City Seoul 2010." She is currently a professor at the School of Visual Arts at Korea National University of Arts. She will be the curator on the Korean side for "Manga Realities--Exploring the Art of Japanese Comics Today" to be held at the Artsonje Center starting December 2010.

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