Heinkuhn Oh(1963- )
The Ajumma series, which consists of 20 photographs, sheds light on the position and role of middle-aged women in Korean society in 1999. Although these women have always existed in our daily lives as someone’s wives or mother, they have been absent in the social sphere. The work presents the images of these middle-aged women through two axes: documentary and fiction. Oh’s use of bright strobe light creates a stark contrast between the background and the women, highlighting their heavy makeup, clothing, and jewelry, and revealing the sense of isolation and separation they feel in “the land of middle-aged men.” Some critics have accused Oh’s works of blatant objectification and degeneration of these women. However, paradoxically, they have also provided an opportunity for those middle-aged women who wanted to find their voice to reaffirm the importance of their social identity. The Art Sonje Center’s exhibition Ajumma (March 13-May 2, 1999) provided an opportunity for Heinkuhn Oh to showcase his two-year-long project that aimed to capture the emotional fragility and anxiety experienced by middle-aged women in Korean society. In the Ajumma series, all of the women are highly conscious of the camera, looking straight ahead as if posing for an ordinary snapshot or souvenir photograph. Despite being taken in daylight, Oh’s use of a strong artificial flash isolates the subjects from their surroundings, restricting the viewer’s perspective to a subjective view. Consequently, the Ajumma series can be regarded as a personal documentary that portrays the world from a subjective perspective.
Heinkuhn Oh(1963- )
Heinkuhn Oh began as a documentary photographer, focusing on capturing the social landscapes of the streets. Over time, he developed portrait works that reveal the typical characteristics of specific groups within Korean society. Through exhibitions such as Ajumma (Art Sonje Center, 1999), Girl’s Act (Ilmin Museum of Art, 2004), Cosmetic Girls (2008, Kukje Gallery), and Middlemen (Art Sonje Center, 2012), Oh has established his distinctive oeuvre that captures the struggles of identity faced by members of these specific groups and reveals their inner anxieties in the form collective portraiture. He is currently a professor in the Department of Photographic Art at the Kaywon University of Art and Design, Korea. Art Sonje Center has been following Oh’s anthropological explorations since his Ajumma series and continued through his exploration of different classes in Korean society. Oh’s research series on women includes works such as Girl’s Act and Cosmetic Girls, while his investigation of social discipline and violence led to works such as Gwangju Story and Middlemen. Through these works, Oh portrays the various states of the Korean people as they emerge or are newly formed in the course of Korea’s historical development and transformation. Oh’s practice closely resonates with the issue of modernity and contemporaneity, which Art Sonje Center has also continuously explored.