Hanji – A Nationʼs Secret

This is a guest article from Paul Munson of Papertree. Read down to the end for an exclusive discount in their online store for all Beyond Hallyu readers .  

What happened before Korean film started to break through with films such as Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring by Kim Ki-Duk? And what about music, was there any quirky cool Korean pop music before Psy showed the world how to dance like a horse rider? No doubt Korea has kept many of its best qualities to itself for a very long time. It was known as the ʻhermit Kingdomʼ in its international isolation. After all it has been attacked by foreign powers, colonised and suffered one of the most devastating wars of the 20th century. To this day its stark division is one of the last remaining legacies of the cold war. Most Koreans arenʼt showy, and modesty is a venerable Korean quality. The irony is that there is not that much to be modest about. South Korea has achieved levels of prosperity and stability in fifty years that took Britain and the United States hundreds. So what else is it keeping from us? In a word, Hanji.

For over a thousand years, Koreans have known the value of this hand-made and richly fibrous paper. It is used to make furniture and to cover walls, floors and as translucent material for windows. It is highly breathable, very strong, and ecologically sustainable. It has crossed over into fashion textiles and technology with Hanji hi-fi speakers and a Korea-US project reportedly underway to use Hanji for robots and spacecraft equipment, funded by NASA. It is made by using the inner bark of the Korean mulberry trees that grow on mountainsides throughout Korea. Its production involves many stages and reputedly one hundred human touches – an antidote to the modern production line. This incredibly versatile paper is also used to make a vast array of arts and crafts.

One of the foremost Hanji artists working internationally is Kitty Jun-Im. Her ʻpaintingsʼ are made up of layers of Hanji collaged to create depth, space and tactile textures. They form an impression of calligraphic choreography clearly influenced by her musical background. Jun-Im is based in the UK.  Another successful artist working in Hanji is Aimee Lee who has probably done more than anyone else to further the cause of Hanji internationally. Lee seems to revel in the sheer versatility of this paper with an incredible range of books, comics, prints, etchings and installations. She has also documented how Hanji is made in a Korean paper Mill and in 2010 built the first Hanji studio in the USA, Ohio. But Hanji arts and crafts remain virtually unknown in Britain, and this is one of the reasons we set up papertree.

Papertree is Paul & Moon Munson, an Anglo-Korean couple who met in mid- nineties Korea. Moon designs and makes Hanji jewellery, gifts and home accessories that are sold through papertree. Moon has always been keen on recycling. So she combined her flare for Hanji design with her concern for the environment. Many papertree crafts are made using re-used and recycled materials. She also canʼt bear to throw anything away, so she developed a new bead called Paper Rock using Hanji off-cuts. They have the feel of paper with the appearance of rock-like creviced stone and have become one of our best selling pieces. Hanji itself is highly sustainable, the mulberry trees are quick to grow and no deforestation takes place. By the way, if you see Moon scavenging about in flea markets or rubbish skips she is looking for discarded furniture for our next Hanji project. You probably wonʼt be discarding yourHanji-crafts because they last so well. Our wedding Hanji gift of a set of trays looks even better now 13 years on! The worldʼs oldest surviving wood block print is the Buddhist Dharani Sutra. It was printed onto hanji c.704 and is still in good condition, bearing the papermakerʼs name.

Another aspect of Hanji craft is the delicate and meticulous art of paper cutting and Moon has cut traditional Korean motifs and beautiful floral patterns out of Hanji. Papertree is gradually gaining some recognition for introducing a little bit of Korea into Britain in the form of this tactile and enduring craft. In 2013 we plan to start selling the paper and tools required for making Hanji-crafts and Moon will be offering lessons. The dialogue between Korea and Britain has always mattered to us. We are also on the look out for larger premises in which to work. With more space we can then start work on larger pieces such as re-claimed furniture. Itʼs a nice thought that Hanji and Hanji crafts will endure for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. When everything humanity has now either disintegrates or is buried – what will be excavated, K-pop, Gangnam Style or Hanji? Hanji is Koreaʼs gift to the world, but the world is yet to know.

Paul Munson is the photographer and media manager for papertree. He has a Photography MA from the University of Brighton and a Philosophy BA with the Open University. Paul lived and taught English in Korea for several years from 1993.  

Check out papertree’s Facebook page to get in touch and follow their progress. You can also visit their website see their crafts online. They are even offering 20% off for all Beyond Hallyu readers until Christmas, just enter BHallyu20 during checkout.

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