Haenyeo – the sea women of Jeju Island by Hyungsun Kim

South Korean photographer Hyungsun Kim’s latest exhibition, Haenyeo – the sea women of Jeju Island, is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum until 13 June. It featurespowerful portraits that 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.

© Hyungsun Kim. Suhjik Samdal, Hamo Jeju 2017.
© Hyungsun Kim. Suhjik Samdal, Hamo Jeju 2017.

These days, the Haenyeo are mostly aged over 60, with some in their 80s. For many generations, they have been freediving for conch, sea cucumber, urchins, abalone, and seaweed. The work is dangerous, and the women dive as deep as 20m, holding their breath for up to two minutes. Girls and young women train with their elders for years before they reach sanggun – senior status.

© Hyungsun Kim. Kim Julja Dodu, Jeju 2014.
© Hyungsun Kim. Kim Julja Dodu, Jeju 2014.

Kim shot the portraits in a makeshift-sheeted studio on the shoreline after the completion of a dive. “[The divers] are shown exactly as they are, tired and breathless. But, at the same time, they embody incredible mental and physical stamina, as the work itself is so dangerous; every day they cross the fine line between life and death. I wanted to capture this extreme duality of the women: their utmost strength combined with human fragility,” he says.

© Hyungsun Kim. Kang Boksoon, Jeju Juheungdong 2016.
© Hyungsun Kim. Kang Boksoon, Jeju Juheungdong 2016.

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

© Hyungsun Kim. Her Kyungsuk, Hamo Jeju, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and the Korean Cultural Centre Australia.
© Hyungsun Kim. Her Kyungsuk, Hamo Jeju, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and the Korean Cultural Centre Australia.

Upcoming Events Submit an Event

April

Head to the the National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, Sydney, to check out the winners and finalists from the 56th annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

May

With a career spanning more than 50 years, Max Dupain is regarded as one of Australia’s most respected and influential black-and-white photographers.

Refocus Retreat is back again in 2021 from 28-31 May down on the Great Ocean Road, in Lorne, Victoria. The event, for women in photography, offers attendees the opportunity to stay at the resort for three nights, or simply attend the conference only.