On April 1st, 2011, a motor show was held in Seoul, Korea. BMW took this opportunity to showcase one particular revelation, the BMW 7 Series elegantly adorned in Mother-of-Pearl by none other than Master Sohn Dae Hyun; a well-known and respected artisan; a key figure in the traditional Korean Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts industry. BMW has, since 1975, collaborated with many world-famous artists to create BMW Art Cars, making unique connections between the world of art and automobiles. This BMW 7 Series was thus coined the project’s ‘Korean Version’.
In today’s world where the traditional Korean Mother-of-Pearl inlaid craftwork industry, once a favored sector of Korean arts, is suffering from a lack of interest and demand, Master Sohn Dae Hyun has been praised for his creative and non-conformist ideas in applying the traditional techniques to modern art, and equally for his mastery of the craft allowing him to carry out those ideas. This project was completed with the expertise of a car interior specialist to address potential issues arising from the light reflecting characteristic inherent in Mother-of-Pearl material. The Mother-of-Pearl Inlay technique, originating from China, developed along a unique path in Korea to later be transferred into Japan. The Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts of Korea continue to be uniquely crafted by the hand of highly skilled artisans to produce beauty distinct from that found in China or Japan. Mother-of-Pearl artwork and products featuring such artwork being created nowadays in Korea boast world-leading quality and design.
Particular strains of arts and crafts risk falling behind or disappearing completely in the absence of endlessly creative and dedicated efforts to develop hand in hand with the waves of time. Often, those masterpieces born of a master artisan’s sweat and blood, perfected through a treacherously painful process, are both priceless and at the same time impossible to valuate. In the absence of a distinct type of person willing to invest the deserved monetary value in the creation, survival is made painfully difficult.
At the same time, many artists and artisans strongly reject any mixing or compromising between their crafts and contemporary culture or technology, despite the unfortunate reality of there being little hope of lasting otherwise. Imagine the artists of today were still creating paintings of the Renaissance period. Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Raphael produced arts that represented distinct characteristics of that period; the techniques, ideas, and motives of which would not guarantee any artist a form of staple living today.
Furniture decorated in Mother-of-Pearl used to be a must have component in a bride’s collection of pre-wedding purchases in any well off family, even up until 30 years ago. However, factors such as the developing of Korea’s economy, the increase in apartment based housing, and the import of western cultures emphasizing practicality and comfort have all contributed to the progressive decline in demand for traditional Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts. This reality offers further proof of the lack of business minded masters adept at leading Mother-of-Pearl craftwork into the new century; sad considering the still existent number of highly skilled master artisans of the craft. Looking at the numerous strains of Western crafts that have successfully adapted and transformed with a business perspective, becoming global brands; Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts, unable to continue generating public interest and demand, can be regarded a failure in business.
Fortunately though, one can see marginal hope in the fact that an increasing number of artisans are starting to think more like Master Sohn Dae Hyun. Like those Koreans tasting cheese for the first time or Westerners tasting Kimchi for the first time, Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts, to the West, may conjure up mixed feelings of awe at the elaborate beauty and at the same time a disinterest in the seemingly overly ornate and highly priced object. However, like an acquired taste, once one understands the beauty of the serene shades and shapes found in the Mother-of-Pearl, as well as the master handiwork involved in the arts creation, they may find themselves absorbed in this alternate world. The harmony portrayed between BMW and Mother-of-Pearl arts is significant therefore as a crossing of tradition and modern expertise, a synergy between Eastern arts and Western technology, and lastly an out-of-box challenge and achievement for traditional Korean Mother-of-Pearl arts and crafts.