The Korea Herald


[Korean Artists of Note] Artist Woo Hannah faces constant battle with herself as artist

By Park Yuna

Published : Sept. 6, 2023 - 17:46

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Woo Hannah poses for a photo with her fabric installation at her studio in Seoul on Aug. 18. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Woo Hannah poses for a photo with her fabric installation at her studio in Seoul on Aug. 18. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

When artist Woo Hannah entered a new phase of her life in her mid-30s, she felt she could finally talk about femininity -- a topic she had long felt cautious about touching on.

“I recently began to notice changes in my body, maybe last year. I was busy at the time and one day I was completely out of energy. I thought ‘Okay, this is no joke,’” Woo said at her studio in Seongbuk-gu, Seoul on Aug. 18.

Woo, who won the inaugural artist award at Frieze Seoul in August, unveiled her winning commission, “The Great Ballroom,” a large-scale fabric installation that embodies the changes of the human body, at Coex in Seoul on Wednesday.

"The Great Ballroom" by Woo Hannah, the winner of the inaugural artist award at Frieze Seoul, is on display at Frieze Seoul 2023 in Coex, southern Seoul, Wednesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

The work will be on display during the global art fair Frieze Seoul 2023, which will bring together more than 300 galleries across the world together with Kiaf Seoul 2023, the city’s long-standing art fair.

“I thought, ‘What is this feeling?’ Then I began to have the confidence to talk about femininity based on my experiences. I always wanted to be honest about my work, and I did not want to talk about things that I had not gone through,” she said.

At her studio are a variety of fabrics in different colors that she used to create her works for Frieze Seoul 2023. Woo’s fabric works are part of the Focus Asia section at the fair, which introduces young, talented artists.

"Milk and Honey_2" by Woo Hannah (Frieze Seoul)

Although Woo recently gained recognition in art circles, she harbored doubts about herself for some time after graduating university. She even considered giving up her career as an artist when she was rejected by a number of galleries and had to worry about making a living, she recalled.

“It seemed people thought I was a geek. But I was encouraged by good feedback from audiences when I held a small exhibition at my studio in Euljiro seven years ago. I prepared the solo show thinking, ‘Okay, if I am going to quit, at least I should give it a try first,’” she said.

Woo, who is now represented by G Gallery based in Seoul, had a chance to introduce her fabric sculptures and installations abroad for the first time at No. 9 Cork Street in March. There, she showed works that explore femininity and challenge the conventional ways of dissecting certain subjects.

An installation view of the group exhibition An installation view of the group exhibition "Living in Joy" at the Art Sonje Center in Seoul, which ran from March 28 to June 25 (courtesy of the museum)

Woo was naturally exposed to art through her mother's colorful interior design books at home. When Woo hesitated over her university major, it was her mom, who worked as an interior designer, who recommended she think about it from a wider perspective and choose visual art that would leave many options open, rather than choosing a specific major in art.

Fabrics came naturally to her when she thought of creating something with worn-out blankets, which her mother had sent her when she was a freshman. The first-ever artwork she created with fabric was a unicorn, she recalled, which was shown together with seven other fabric works at a show at her university.

"A Wall," created by Woo with fabrics while attending college (courtesy of Woo Hannah)

Woo said maintaining balance has always been important in her life. She tried to convey this concept in her works, which have a sense of whimsy and cuteness, but also hold deep, macabre nuances.

“I was a very sensitive person back in college and sometimes I found it difficult to control myself emotionally. I still feel my eyes getting teary when I speak about things with sincerity and I have tried my whole life to figure out how to control things in balance,” she said.

As an artist, Woo noted that she feels most challenged by the constant battle with herself to create works that are better than what she had created before.

“I think all people who have to create things are the same (in that way). But I think I am very lucky in that I can keep challenging myself as an artist. I know that not many artists are allowed to do so as such opportunities do not come easily,” she said.

Born in 1988, Woo received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts at the Korea National University of Arts, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the same school.

Woo Hannah poses for a photo at her studio in Seoul on Aug. 18. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Woo Hannah poses for a photo at her studio in Seoul on Aug. 18. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)


This is the last in a four-part interview series with Korea's emerging artists whose works are being shown at Frieze Seoul 2023 and Kiaf Seoul 2023. --Ed.