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Let the light shine

Art exhibits reflect spirit of Christmas through the portrayal of Christ’s life against Joseon era and light-inspired backgrounds

Museums and galleries are holding exhibitions in keeping with the festive, yet reflective mood at the end of the year. Two art exhibitions feature different representations of the symbols of Christ and reflections on our modern life, making them timely for the holiday season.

Seoul Museum presents a unique painting series by the Korean artist Kim Ki-chang (1914-2001), who imaginatively portrayed the life of Christ set in the Joseon era. Some 30 major scenes from Christ’s life are on display at this special exhibition “O, Holy Night,” allowing viewers to trace the development of his life. 

The need for representation of Christ’s life began when the artist met Anders Kristian Jensen, a U.S. missionary in Korea during the Korean War (1950-1953). Jensen asked Kim, who was from a devout Christian family, to paint Christ’s life in the time of despair in the war.

“I came to the conclusion that it might be the right time for me to paint the life of Jesus when Korean people were in deep sorrow and pain from the war,” Kim recalled of when he accepted the offer. 
“Wise Men from the East Visiting the Infant Jesus” by Woonbo Kim Ki-chang (Seoul Museum)
“Wise Men from the East Visiting the Infant Jesus” by Woonbo Kim Ki-chang (Seoul Museum)

The series begins with the Annunciation showing an angel in the form of the Taoist fairy foretelling Christ’s birth to Mary, and continues with the baby Jesus in the arms of Mary while wearing a rainbow-striped jeogori, the traditional Korean jacket for children. The Eastern Wise Men worshipping the newborn are dressed in the official robes of Joseon ministers.

The paintings of Christ’s life were considered to hold high artistic value as they feature Kim’s detailed traditional brushstrokes combined with modern abstract images. Kim left his footprints in Korean modern art by incorporating traditional Korean art with Western modern art. The exhibition runs through Feb. 15. For more information, visit

Familiar symbols of Christ such as light, joy and love are key themes of exhibitions at Gana Art Center in Seoul.

Media artist Lee Lee-nam presents new media works that reinterpret light symbolizing Christ as a “savior” that restores humanism lost in the confused digital world. Light is also the hope that brightens the darkness in his video installation showing a silhouetted man sending glittering stars to the sky. 
“The Reborn Light” by Lee Lee-nam. (Gana Art Center)
“The Reborn Light” by Lee Lee-nam. (Gana Art Center)

“Light Falls on Every Individual” by Lee Lee-nam. (Gana Art Center)
“Light Falls on Every Individual” by Lee Lee-nam. (Gana Art Center)

An old Korean landscape painting on an LED TV screen turns into a fantasy world as the night sets in after snow falls. The old Korean village becomes an imaginary wonderland with colorful lights on trees shining through the night.

In a twist to Michelangelo’s Pieta sculpture, the artist separates the dead body of Jesus from the Virgin Mary, who cradles the body in the original work. Jesus is lifted into the air, separated from Mary’s comfortable hold.

For the artist, the separation holds another meaning ― the separation of human beings from the control of technology in every aspect of our life.

“It’s a new form of resurrection. Human beings fall victim to the technology they developed for their convenience. It reflects my thoughts about a new society free from technology’s control,” said Lee during the press preview of the exhibition.

The exhibition continues through Feb. 8 in Seoul. Lee’s works are also on view at Gana Art Center in Busan until Jan. 31.

Another exhibition at the Gana Art Center features warm pastel paintings by artist Choi Jong-tae that portray symbols of Christ ― light, love and joy ― in abstract and simplified images. For more information, visit

By Lee Woo-young (