The Korea Herald

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지나쌤

Craft fair highlights artisans under radar

By Choi Si-young

Published : Dec. 19, 2023 - 14:43

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Korean mulberry paper, or hanji, is shown at the 2023 Craft Trend Fair at Coex in Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap) Korean mulberry paper, or hanji, is shown at the 2023 Craft Trend Fair at Coex in Seoul, Thursday. (Yonhap)

The largest annual fair showcasing crafts in South Korea ended Sunday, with hopes for the country’s artisans to go global on surging demand for their work.

The 2023 Craft Trend Fair, hosted by the Culture Ministry and organized by the Korea Craft & Design Foundation from Thursday to Sunday, attracted 276 participants -- mostly galleries and workshops -- with handmade goods ranging from tableware and furniture to knitting and embroidery.

New to this year’s fair, which has run since 2006 at Seoul’s Coex, was a flurry of programs organized for artists to expand their presence by meeting with international buyers or receiving help to get the recognition they have long been awaiting.

“The fair offers a chance,” said a senior official from the Korea Craft & Design Foundation, which runs the show matching global buyers with local artisans.

“We’re like a matchmaker. We will have to go over the figures before releasing the final report on the fair, but we feel pretty confident the numbers are more than good this year,” the official added, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter before the report’s release, scheduled for next week.

The “good numbers” had largely been expected on some level, the official noted, referring to Thursday’s invitation-only opening ceremony where attendance by buyers, ministry and foundation officials and media was higher than expected.

RDAI, the architecture firm founded in 1972 by Rena Dumas, wife of Hermes’ former artistic director and CEO Jean-Louis Dumas, was one of some 20 special invitees who previewed the exhibition.

The four-day exhibition, however, was not just for established artisans looking for a spot on the global stage. It offered live lectures for aspiring artisans looking to go beyond what their predecessors have achieved.

“I hope Koreans also come out and see the ever-evolving K-craft, so to speak,” said Lee Eun-bok, chief of the Art Policy Bureau at the Culture Ministry.

Hong Seung-ho, head of the Craft Industry Team at exhibition organizer KCDF, said the foundation will step up efforts to make Korean craft “practical as well as globally recognized.”

“The key is involving as many foreign buyers as possible,” he said. “For next year, we will reach out to more institutions overseas -- galleries or individuals -- and make it all the more worthwhile for our local visitors to enjoy the beauty of handmade goods here.”