USC Pacific Asia Museum Assistant Curator Yeonsoo Chee recently interviewed preeminent Korean shamanism practitioner Kim Keum-hwa as she prepares for her unique two-day program in Pasadena and Los Angeles this month. This special program including a rare, live performance at USC Pacific Asia Museum on January 18, 2015 will offer the Southern California community a rare opportunity to experience and learn from Ms. Kim about the practice of shamanism in Korea today.
Yeonsoo Chee: You have performed internationally. What is the most important aspect of Korean shamanism that you hope to convey to new audiences around the world?
Kim Keum-hwa: Korean shamanism is deeply rooted in Korean history as the oldest belief system and has played a great role in curing deep wounds of the Korean people who went through colonization and the Korean War. It is also a form of performance art that is open to everybody.
Yeonsoo Chee: You have been through a great deal of adversity as a shaman. What was the most difficult ordeal in your life?
Kim Keum-hwa: In the 1960s and 70s the government pursued me with accusations that shamans and shamanism were an obstacle to the modernization of the nation. People would follow me into the mountains and try to harm me.
Yeonsoo Chee: Now, more and more scholars and researchers pay respect to this tradition of shamanism. How do you foresee the future of Korean shamanism?
Kim Keum-hwa: It’s true that there’s been a growing interest among scholars and the Korean government, but the general public still has a big prejudice against shamanism, perceiving it as mere superstition. If we can break that mindset and people to see it as a great tradition from our ancestors, then the practice will survive.
Yeonsoo Chee: What is your advice to the young people who devote themselves to preserving and continuing this tradition?
Kim Keum-hwa: Young people should respect all aspects of this tradition and shouldn’t be selective in preserving it. Rather than ignoring people who don’t fully understand or respect this tradition, they should be patient with them.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 7 pm
Screening of the critically acclaimed movie based on Ms. Kim’s biography Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits, on the USC campus at the Ray Stark Family Theatre on Friday, January 16, 2015, at 7 pm. After the screening, the audience will have an opportunity to have an intimate conversation with Ms. Kim.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 18, 2 pm
Performance with Ms. Kim’s musicians in the courtyard at USC Pacific Asia Museum. Ms. Kim has generously loaned artifacts from her performances, which will be on view in the museum’s permanent Gallery of Korean Art.
The program is co-sponsored by Korean Cultural Center LA and is supported, in part, by the USC Korean Studies Institute, USC East Asian Studies Center, Mike and Sookie Garrison and the Korean Arts Council at USC Pacific Asia Museum.
Image courtesy of Kim Keum-hwa.