As part of the Korea/UK season, the Korean Cultural Centre UK and the Cheongju Craft Biennale presented Munbangsau: Friends of the Scholar. The exhibition was based on munbangsau – the four essential literary tools used by Confucian scholars (seonbi) during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897 AD).

The exhibition joined the programme of London Craft Week 2018 (9-13 May), and was complemented by an opening performance by a classical geomungo (traditional Korean instrument) player, Jeong-ju Lee, at the opening reception on 23 April. An event of a performance and workshops took place on 12 May, featuring master craftsmen from Chungcheongbuk-do, a province in Cheongju, Korea, that is renowned for the preservation of traditional Korean craftsmanship.

Munbangsau carries connotations of the moral responsibility taken on by the scholars in the creation and conservation of knowledge and the use of the tools, which consists of hanji (paper), pil (brush), meok (ink) and byeoru (inkstone).

The exhibition reflected upon the spirit of the seonbi tradition in Korea and is divided into two sections. The first part featured a spectacular imaginative reconstruction of a seonbi’s room, decorated with objects handcrafted by numerous master craftsmen, including a geoumungo (traditional Korean instrument) by master Cho Jun-seok and Huh Heecheol, a folding screen by painter Han Young-hee, landscape pieces by pyrography master Kim Yeong-jo and Kim Yu-jin, wood furniture by Lee Sung-jun and Cho Seong-kook, as well as tea sets and pottery made by ceramic masters Lee Jong-sung and Lee Yae-ji.

The second part of the exhibition featured demonstrations of traditional handcrafting of the munbangsau tools by the Korean paper master Ahn Chi-yong, brush master Yu Pil-moo, ink master Han Sang-mook, ink stone master Shin Myoung-sik and Shin Jae-min.

Exploring the strong cultural values associated with the seonbi tradition in Korea and its relevance today, ‘Munbangsau: Friends of the Scholar’ revealed the dynamic and longstanding history of Korean crafts and its legacy in contemporary Korea.

The exhibition was on view at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London, from 23 April until 26 May 2018.

Co-presented by the Korean Cultural Centre UK and the Cheongju Craft Biennale as part of Korea/UK season 2017-18.