All 33 people who participated in the drafting of the Proclamation of Independence for the March 1 Independence Movement in 1919 were men. People of all classes and backgrounds across the country participated in the ,March 1 Independence Movement, but only a few women have been duly recognized.
It was against this backdrop Ryu Joon-hwa, a painter of Western art, drew female independence fighters. The exhibition currently on view at Jongno, Seoul, entitled “Presented to 33 Female Independence Fighters,” is composed of a total of 62 paintings, including 33 portraits of female independence activists who were not given due attention of the history. Their lives were traced back through the paintings.
In a telephone interview, Ryu said that she conducted research on the Modern Woman group for about a year and collected their pictures carried on the old newspapers. “There were so many women to draw, and it was very difficult to choose whom to paint," said the painter. Among the 33 women, including Ryu Gwan-sun and Na Hye-sok whom the public is relatively familiar with, are Maria Kim, who smuggled and distributed the February 8 Declaration of Independence, Park Cha-jeong, a member of the Heroic Corps, and nurses, gisaeng, and students who resisted the Japanese colonialism in their own ways.
Some women are strong, and some look sad. The 66 pair of eyes talk to viewers in silence, asking, “I led a satisfactory life, are you living well?” Next to the portraits stands the work entitled “Ritual Table,” a series of paintings of tables for the ancestral rites set with wine, coffee, watermelon, eggs, and flowerpots.
“I was deeply moved and felt sorry for these women while I was doing the research,” said Ryu. The “Ritual Table” series incorporates the artist’s wish that the table, which used to be prepared by women in the Confucian culture, should be the place where everybody can rejoice together. “I want these women in the past and we living in the present sit together and share our memories as though we are going on picnics together,” Ryu said.
The work installed on the first basement level of the exhibition hall displays a girl. The painter consistently drew girls in her works from 2007 to 2018. The “Flower River” (2012) depicts a girl who crosses the river with a baby on her back. Girls illustrated in Ryu’s works symbolize the lives of women. “Women embrace and heal living things by getting pregnant and giving birth,” said Ryu. “I think one of the ways to create an inclusive community is to have conversations about women.” The exhibition will be on view until August 25, 2022.