Past Exhibition

Heinkuhn OH: Left Face

December 8, 2022 – November 29, 2023

Space 2, Art Sonje Center

Heinkuhn OH: Left Face

With the exhibition Left Face, Heinkuhn Oh offers the public its first glimpse at a sort of interim account of his series Portraying Anxiety, which has been underway since 2006. For over two decades, Oh has been photographing members of particular groups in Korea, including middle-aged women (known in Korean as “ajumma”), female high school students, and soldiers. He has focused on the shared anxieties among them and the feelings of emotional tumult. In that sense, the title Portraying Anxiety can be read referring to the signs of anxiety that Oh detected while observing contemporary Koreans.

Part of that Portraying Anxiety series, the Left Face exhibition shows people whom the artist met primarily in the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon, where his studio is located. They are typically spoken of as “young people,” but they are not definable in terms of class or function. For some time, Oh has met with and photographed these people, using his images to show traces that are vaguely layered or marked on their faces, bodies, and gestures. A common element of the work in the exhibition is its indefinability in terms of any one identity. Heinkuhn Oh has focused his past portrait series on people who can be labeled in terms of some identity: residents of Itaewon, people gathering to make a film about the Gwangju Democracy Movement, middle-aged women, female high school students, soldiers, and so forth. His images have brought to the surface certain relationships that exist in politics, society, culture, and history. But in the photographs featured in the Left Face exhibition, the subjects cannot be assigned any socially typified label. This event brings together portraits of people who cannot be easily lumped together in terms of gender, generation, profession, or any other aspect. The meaning of the word “left” in the exhibition title can be interpreted as the direction “left,” but it can also refer to the traces that are “left” behind.

Together with the Left Face exhibition, Art Sonje Center is also presenting ASJC Files: Heinkuhn Oh through its Project Space. This will be an opportunity to rediscover the body of work that Heinkuhn Oh has built over the years. The ASJC Files program is being introduced as a way of reexploring the Center’s past and present based on its collection and history of programs. For its first focus, it revisits Oh’s 1999 exhibition Ajumma from a present-day perspective 23 years later.

When it was originally held in 1999, Ajumma examined the position and meaning held by middle-aged women in Korean society. Adopting the two axes of “documentary” and “fiction,” Heinkuhn Oh showed the faces of women at the time who were ever-present in daily life as wives and mothers but absent at a social level. His intense lighting contrasts with the dark backdrops to accentuate the women’s thick makeup, clothing, and accessories, bringing to the fore the feelings of loneliness and isolation that they experienced in what was then a “country for middle-aged men.” Some criticized the work as overtly objectifying and disparaging femininity, but the exhibition was also ironically an occasion for underscoring the significance in the social identity of middle-aged women who were seeking out their own voices.

About the artist
Starting as a documentary photographer who captured the social landscapes on the streets, Heinkuhn Oh has focused on documenting specific groups of people that present a certain type of social convention created by the Korean society. Especially in 1999, his solo exhibition ‘Ajumma, Portraits of Middle-aged Women in Korea’ created the ‘Ajumma Syndrome’ in Korean society through his distinctive theme and style. Since then, he had pursued with constant interest on capturing the sense of anxiety derived from the crisis of identity in the Korean society. At present, he is a professor in the department of photographic art at the Kaywon University of Art and Design in Korea.

December 8, 2022 – November 29, 2023
Space 2, Art Sonje Center
Heinkuhn Oh
Hosted by
Art Sonje Center
Supported by
Arts Council Korea
Exhibition Management
Jungwon Lee