The Hills are High

Oriental Museum, Elvet Hill, Durham, DH1 3TH

17.02.18 to 09.09.18

9th February to 9th September 2018


An exhibition by curator/photographer Lauren Barnes, illustrating the everyday lives of South Koreans over the course of a single year.


Mainstream UK media coverage of South Korea often lingers on scenes of protest, military muscle, and smart phones.  But there is much more to Korean life than such stereotypes suggest, and the country’s fine cuisine, colourful celebrations and pop-culture are increasingly engaging the attention of Western audiences.


The Hills are High explores the issues of politics and popular culture that are familiar to visitors, but goes further to reveal some of the main challenges and joys of life in South Korea today.  The exhibition casts a light on how and why South Korea has evolved since the Korean War into the country it is today - one of contrasts and challenges, where traditions coexist with technology; politics with people; and nature with an ever-expanding city-scape.



The title comes from a well-known poem written in the 1500s. It is used as the title for the exhibition because the poem references the ever-present mountain landscape in Korea and also the attitude of the Korean people to strive for greater things, to rebuild and to improve, an attitude that was present in Korean society in the sixteenth century but which has also been abundant since the Korean war where the country has developed rapidly into a major international economic power.


Though they say “The hills are high”,

all hills are still below heaven.

By climbing, climbing, climbing more,

there is no peak that cannot be scaled.

But the man who never tries to climb,

he says indeed: “The hills are high”



Image: Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon, South Korea

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