Lost cultural assets and national heritage appreciated by digital images.

“What a good thing it is to have painted it in pictures, so that it may be passed down through the millennia.” - Prince Anpyeong’s poem added to Mongyudowondo - 신태섭 기자l승인2024.04.29l수정2024.04.29 13:35

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According to data from the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Cultural Heritage Administration, as of 2023, there were approximately 230,000 Korean cultural properties in 27 countries. The largest number is in Japan, followed by the United States, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom. The South Korean government has been trying to return them for a long time, but the return rate is less than 5%. Many of them are national treasures, and the chances of their return are very low.

 

Restoring the lost national heritage in high-definition digital form.

Many cultural heritage and artwor are kept in museums home and abroad. This is to protect them from the ravages of time and keep them safe for a long time. However, this limits the public’s chance to see them in real. Korea Cultural Heritage Association of Digital Conservation President Sangmin Nam is taking the lead in restoring these national heritages with digital technology and recreating them through storytelling videos so that the public can view them. Nam says “Many of our heritage and artworks are sleeping in museums. There is also a great need for the return of our heritage that has been lost abroad. We aim to restore our national heritage with digital technology, recreate it as artwork, and pass it on to our future generations.” 

 

Bringing Korean cultural heritage home in digital forms.

Nam, who founded the association, worked as a Master Creative Director at Cheil for 26 years after graduating from Hongik University College of Fine Arts. From 2012 to 2014, Nam digitally restored representative cultural assets from Europe and China, along with cultural assets from the Joseon Dynasty, and created digital masterpieces, which were exhibited both domestically and internationally (Art ASIA in Beijing and Shanghai in 2013, Hyundai Asan Medical Center and Korea University Museum in 2014). Since 2015, Nam has been planning the ‘Digital Return of Korean Cultural Assets Overseas’ campaign to digitally restore Korean cultural assets located overseas and return them as digital works, and has presented the works to the public through four exhibitions (Korea University Museum, DDP, National Palace Museum of Korea). Nam established an association with like-minded members in March 2020 to carry out more systematic restoration work. Nam digitally restored a total of 24 cultural assets, including An Gyeon’s Mongyudowondo, Suwolgwaneumdo, and Ten Longevity Paintings, as well as numerous national treasure-level cultural assets and heritages located overseas. Nam has held several digital homecoming exhibitions for cultural assets overseas, including the 2021 Shinsegae Starfield and the Jongno-gu Office Iksan Mireuksaji Media Art Festa.

 

“What a good thing it is to have painted it in pictures, so that it may be passed down through the millennia.”

Digitally restoring cultural heritage works is a complex and laborious process that can be costly and time-consuming. The first step is to digitally reconstruct the original, weather-damaged artifact. Through this process, the artifact is given a new lease of life, taking on the appearance of something from the long-ago past. Then, a digital movie is created that captures the time and story of the artwork’s creation. For example, Mongyudowondo is a work in which Prince Anpyeong told An Gyeon about the appearance of Dowon he saw in his dream, and An Gyeon, who heard the scene, expressed it in a painting. The work was done using ink and color on a silk background, and has the characteristic of developing from the lower left to the upper right. The digitally restored work provides detailed video production that takes people back to the time when An Gyeon was working, and includes a story and music to help viewers understand the work and help them emotionally immerse themselves in and appreciate the work. All of these processes are produced as digital images, and the paintings gain a lively feel as if they are alive.

 

Digital repatriation of cultural property should be implemented at the national level.

Nam’s meaningful work has resonated with many people who love Korea’s cultural heritage and art, and has attracted people from all walks of life to join the organization. Korea Franchise Contents Development Institute Director Ahn Chi-won, Fusion CEO Kang Yun-bong, Sunchon National University Professor Lee Chang-soo, and the Federation of Artistic & Cultural Organization of Korea External Cooperation Chairman Lee Gyeong-tae serve as directors and vice-presidents of the association. Actors Ji Jin-hee and Yoo Tae-woong, singer Song So-hee, and Korean history lecturer Seol Min-seok serve as public relations ambassadors for the association. Additionally, middle and high school teachers and historians assisted the association’s exhibitions by serving as daily docents for several exhibitions. Despite all these efforts, the association needs the support of the government. This is because it is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, and there are many economic constraints that prevent them from being active. With Nam’s own money, many people are providing general help, but since it costs at least tens of millions of won to produce one piece, support at the national level is desperately needed. Nam says “I hope that digital restitution of our heritage that has been leaked overseas will be implemented at the national level. In addition, numerous cultural heritage items held in Korea are produced as digital works so that the public can enjoy them through various media. These works are used as teaching materials in schools and used as a means of promoting Korean culture and arts through Korean Cultural Centers overseas.”


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