Photographer: Hyung S. Kim
On the island of Jeju, outside South Korea, the diving women haenyeo are living in coexistence with the ocean, the waves and the storms. The tradition is more than 1000 years old and has developed an organization based on a strong community and sustainable fishing.
For generations, the women have acquired knowledge of the sea and the marine life. The occupation is traditionally inherited, and girls are taught from an early age. Both women and men worked as divers until the 16th century, after which the profession was gradually taken over by women. Haenyeo women provide for the family while the men care for the households.
Living in harmony with nature’s assets is a guiding principle in haenyeo culture. The women are free divers and do not use oxygen tanks and harpoons. They have developed a breathing technique to manage longer periods under water. Haenyeo work after seasons and there are strict rules for which sea creatures and plants the divers are allowed to harvest, to ensure the natural growth of the sea.
In the exhibition Haenyeo – Women of the Sea we meet some of the women and learn about their life and work. Presented in the exhibition are 20 powerful portraits by Hyung S. Kim. There are unique objects presented in the exhibition, donated by Sooni Kim. Her mother and grandmother were haenyeo. Selected footage from the documentary Breathing under Water produced by Hee-Young Ko is on display. In the movie we get to hear the women talk about their life and work.
The exhibition Haenyeo – Women of the Sea is produced by Min Jeong Ko, the initiator of the exhibition, and the Maritime Museum and Aquarium in Gothenburg. Min Jeong Ko’s grandmother was haenyeo and she has a great passion for the culture.