Art & Places: Jangseung, South Korea

When my husband and I visited Korean Folk Village on our last day in South Korea, these totem poles greeted us. Lucky for me, I visited National Folk Museum of Korea a day before that and knew that it is called Jangseung.

jangseung totem poles

Jangseung totem poles, Korean Folk Village.

Couple Jangseung looking down at me. National Folk Museum of Korea.

Jangseung is regarded as one of the earliest examples of non-figurative art, in which a human face is carved on a wooden pole (tree trunk). Jangseung has the face of traditional Korean military officer with angry eyes, snaggle teeth and a hat on top of the pole and inscription down at the middle. Inscription bears the meaning of ‘Great General Under Heaven’ for male and as for female ‘Female General Under Earth’. These wooden totem poles, erected in groups or pairs at the entrance of Buddhist temples or villages, were worshipped as village guardians or deities with magical power that drives out demons. Jangseung also indicated as the border between neigboring villages.

The history of  Jangseung is dated back more than 2000 years ago. Once considered as deity, it is mostly decorative piece now and commonly placed at the gates of large places to indicate entrances.

Jangseung is considered organic works of art and generally expected to last about a hundred years due to nature’s harsh elements.

I found one interesting blog post about Jangseung by Nick Elwood in his blog: A Korean Compendium. His blog post: Fascinating Physogs – A Tour of Some Korean Totem Poles explores the many types of Jangseung .Go read it.

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