The Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA) is co-hosting an exhibition with the National Museum of Modern And Contemporary Art of Korea, featuring 130 masterpieces by Korean artists of the modern age (1897-1965). The Space Between : Modern Korean Art, as the exhibition is called, became a hot topic even outside the art circle as soon as it was revealed that BTS’s RM will be serving as an audio guide, narrating the history and the description of some of the artworks featured at the exhibit.
RM picked ten of his favorite pieces for the project, one of which is Rha Hye Sok’s self-portrait. This choice, in particular, has impressed fans because Rha Hye Sok is considered the pioneer of Korean feminism.
RM narrated her life story in the audio guide, tracing her journey from being a revolutionary artist in Korea to becoming one of the most resented ‘radical’ women of her time. Born in 1897, Rha Hye Sok started studying oil painting at the Women’s School of Art in Tokyo when she was 16 years old. She was the first Korean woman to study Western-style oil painting. Her first solo exhibition was in Seoul in 1921, a time when the public interest and knowledge of oil painting was close to none in Korea.
The audio narration also touched upon the activism of Rha Hye Sok, highlighting her involvement in the women’s liberation movement.
Rha Hye-seok was the epitome of the “New Woman” of the modern age. In addition to her groundbreaking work as an oil painter, she was also actively involved in the women’s liberation movement. She helped to publish the magazine New Woman and wrote numerous articles on women’s liberation, in addition to being an accomplished illustrator and novelist.
Rha Hye Sok traveled to Europe and the United States in 1927 with her husband. She trained at the studio of Roger Bissière in Paris, and her art style evolved into bolder and darker paintings. “Self-portrait” is one such piece with a dark color palette, reflecting the psychological turmoil she was facing in her life.
The darkness that appeared in Rha Hye-seok’s paintings was likely related to her marital problems. After the trip back to Korea, the marriage ended in divorce. At a time when marital infidelity and divorce were highly stigmatized, she spoke openly about her situation. In an article entitled “Confession about My Divorce,” she described her reasons for getting divorced, criticized gender inequality, and declared that every woman deserved autonomy as an independent person. Unfortunately, at that time, Korean society had little tolerance for a woman who expressed such progressive ideas or attempted to subvert traditional values. As a result, Rha was gradually shunned by society. She spent the last years of her life in poverty and alienation, before dying alone in 1948.
The fact that RM chose to highlight a piece and a personality like this when anti-feminist sentiments are dangerously high in South Korea has made fans proud. Many felt that this move is a vital instance that establishes that feminism is not a divisive movement that pits men and women against each other.
Showing the world that feminism is not a male female divide.
— Kett💜Sexy Nukim! 🤩 (@CdnMom_BTSFan) September 13, 2022
This is not the first time RM has openly shown his support and appreciation for feminist creators. During a live broadcast in 2017, he talked about Kim Ji Young, Born 1982, a book that gives voice to the women of South Korea struggling against gender discrimination. Being associated with feminism has been a constant threat to idols’ careers, as was seen when anti-feminist fans of Red Velvet‘s Irene burned her photocards to show their disapproval after learning that she had read the same novel. But RM has never backed down from using his huge platform to ensure these oppressed voices get a chance to be heard and recognized.