Why are people afraid of old women expressing themselves with makeup (and wild fashions)? asks Korean Artist Hong Ilhwa.
I wandered into Gallery Dam in Seoul with Maggie Rainey-Smith and found an exhibition that enchanted me. Hong Ilhwa has painted the heads of extremely old women adorned with head gear combining symbols and fabrics from many different countries. The hats are so expressive and exotic and flashy that they should smother the personality of these extremely old women. But they don’t. Look at the beaming smile and the shiny eyes so full of life in the postcard above. I would happily live with this old woman’s portrait day after day as my companion, my inspiration, and my responsibility. However, better it is seen by many people day after day in a public space.
What the artist says: we condemn old women for doing what young women do
Other paintings by Hong Ilhwa show old women in vivid makeup.
For the complete text and more images, see Culture M Magazine. Here’s an excerpt.
Curiosity is the engine of artwork
Curiosity is the engine of my artwork. When people say my painting of an old lady putting on makeup look quite scary. It is not because my painting exaggerated the old lady but somehow people feel quite differently about an old lady doing the exact same thing as a young woman does.
When an old lady gets plastic surgery, people look at it very negatively and start pouring out their judgmental opinions. When an old lady dresses glamorously and puts on colorful make up, people shake their heads in disapproval. The reaction for young people is quite the contrast. Why is expressing one’s character and taste in fashion so forbidden simply because you are not as young?
The young see the old as a different species
Now that young Korean women are almost universally gorgeous, elegant, trim and shiny and perfectly groomed, where does that leave the old women—out in the wilderness, out in the cold, out on a limb? Even in my unsophisticated little world of New Zealand, ageing brings a shift in identity that can be disturbing. What must this change feel like when you are surrounded by impeccable youthful beauty?
It’s hard enough for any young woman to imagine herself hitting fifty. When you’re young, such disbelief is normal and maybe necessary. Makeup is part of one’s arsenal against the rumour of old age. But when the young are so extremely beautiful, their grandparents’ generation must seem as if they belong to a separate species… aliens.
Which is the clincher: we don’t change species as the years go by. Ergo, we will never be old. Ergo, old ladies wearing makeup are weird.
Right. I’m going to put lipstick on my 78-year-old face right now.
Please, please, don’t take this as a criticism of young Korean women! They have given me nothing but friendship and kindness, and they live in a society with intense pressures and a long, complex history. I couldn’t hope to walk five inches in their shoes, let alone a mile. On the other hand, I’m told that feminists in Korea rebel by going barefaced (what a word!), refusing to wear make-up. That makes sense too.
The art work on the postcard is (c) Hong Ilhwa and was seen at Gallery Dam in Seoul, September 2018. Text and photo by Rachel McAlpine cc by 2.0.