Name: Min-Jung Kim
What is your specialty area? My known speciality is East Asian decorative arts and design within the Museum. I look after the Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections in all mediums including: ceramics, textiles, wood and lacquer, metal, jade, paper etc. However, I would like to say my specialty is facilitating dialogues between Asian communities and the Museum. After all, we care for objects to tell the stories of people!
How long have you been working at the Museum? My first work at the Museum was 12 years ago when I co-curated an exhibition Rapt in colour: Korean textiles and costumes of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910). Following this exhibition, I worked on Earth, Spirit, Fire: Korean masterpieces of the Choson Dynasty in 2000. I went back to academics to study Cultural Studies then started again at the Museum in my current role three years ago.
Favourite object in the collection? If someone asks who your favourite child is amongst all your children, then you probably can’t answer! Still, if I have to, I would probably say “my first child is Shou Lao (Chinese figure of the God of longevity). I regard him as my guardian angel in the Museum. Shou Lao is riding a deer and holding a peach looking at you wishing longevity. It has a fascinating story around it and we still need to hunt down the mystery of the story about how it came to Australia. He takes the role of the first child in the Asian collection very well.”
Then I would probably keep saying proudly, “I love my charming second daughter – the Japanese comb collection. My third child is the collection of Chinese toggles and Japanese netsuke. They are so precious and they are kept in the Museum’s special vault. Chinese toggles, in particular, are very rare and this is known as one of the world’s largest collections. My fourth child is quite a character. He is our Samurai arms and amours collection. My heart goes to my fifth one, a traditional Korean wedding robe. I am pictured here with the first and fifth of my children!”
What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum? I was very excited to find out that our Chinese toggle collection is one of the world’s largest collections of its kind when I was developing an exhibition Chinese belt toggles in 2008. This collection was formed by Hedda and Alastair Morrison in Beijing in the 1940s and donated to the Museum in 1992. People know about Japanese netsuke, but not much of its forebear, Chinese toggles.
My favourite exhibition is Rapt in colour : Korean textiles and costumes of the Chosôn Dynasty. People still talk about the exhibition and how beautiful it was. It also had great stories. Korea has a long tradition of wrapping things with beautiful wrapping cloths and women made the wrapping cloths with left over fabrics from making clothes for her family members. The compositions of colour created by these unknown women were no less innovative and brilliant than how Mondrian is known today.