The sea women of Jeju Island

Photographic exhibition celebrating a community of women divers

Hyungsun Kim's powerful portraits celebrate a community of women divers known as Haenyeo (sea women), who harvest the seas sustainably around Jeju Island, off the southern tip of South Korea.

Today, the Haenyeo are mostly aged over 60, with some in their 80s. Over many lifetimes they have been free diving for conch, sea cucumber, urchins, abalone and seaweed – in icy, warm, calm and treacherous waters.

It is dangerous, physical work, as the Haenyeo do not use a snorkel or air tank. They dive to 20-metre depths holding their breaths for up to two minutes, often for hours at a time. Girls and young women train with their elders for years before they reach sanggun – senior status.

The artist, Hyungsun Kim shows the women as more than a symbol of an ancient practice; their incredible lives in the sea are writ in every line and surface as each woman confronts the photographer's lens after coming in from a dive, in a makeshift-sheeted studio on the shoreline.

 

Touring exhibition produced by the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Korean Cultural Centre Australia with assistance from the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. It has been supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Republic of Korea in 2021.

Header image: Silver Prize, the 4th of the Jeju International Photo Contest, 2020. Photographer unidentified. Image courtesy of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province

 

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