Korean Cultural Centre Canada presents Photo Exhibition by Hyung S. Kim from August 17 to November 3, 2017.
Jeju haenyeo, literally translated as sea women, are Korean women in Jeju Island with an occupation of diving into 10-20 meter underwater without diving equipment or breathing apparatus to collect such seafood of abalone or sea urchins. With knowledge of the sea and marine life, they dive for up to 7 hours a day, holding their breath for 1-2 minutes at a time. Some skilled haenyeo dive as deep as 20 meters for about 3 minutes. They make long whistle-like sound, called Sumbi-Sori, when breathing fast as they rise to the surface of water after holding their breaths underwater. They come onshore after repeating the diving operation between 30 and 70times per a day. They work for 6 to 7 hours a day in the summer months and 4 to 5 hours in the winter months, totaling 90 days each year.
However, the number of haenyeo has been dwindling from 24,000 in 1970 to 4,900 as of today with only half of them are practicing diving. Among them, only 7 haenyeo is in their 30s, and most of them are over age 60. The oldest haenyeo shown in this exhibition is 90 years new.
A commercially successful photographer, Hyung S. Kim captured Jeju’s haenyeo for five years from 2012 to 2017, focusing on the body and appearance of haenyeo when they come out from the water after diving a whole day without oxygen-support.
“The photos of the haenyeo reflect and overlap with the images I have of my mother and grandmother. They are shown exactly as they are, tired and breathless. But, at the same time, they embody incredible mental and physical stamina, as the work itself is so dangerous; every day they cross the fine line between life and death. I wanted to capture this extreme duality of fragility and incredible strength.” Kim says.
Recognizing its uniqueness and vulnerability, UNESCO inscribed Jenju haenyeo culture in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. UNESCO acknowledges ‘the contribution of Jeju haenyeo culture to the advancement of women’s status in the community and haenyeo’s effort to environmental sustainability with its eco-friendly methods and community involvement in management of fishing practices.’
In celebration of Canada 150, the Korean Cultural Centre Canada (KCC) has been presenting a list of Korean cultural programs under the theme of K-Connected. KCC would like to share this unique and inspiring story of Jeju haenyeo with the Canadian public through this exhibition.