On a cab ride in Jeju, a friendly uncle driver enthusiastically told me that the island is known for 3 things: rocks, wind.. and after struggling with the korean-to-english translation app on his iphone.. women.  

He meant the famous haenyo - sea women divers who fight against the wild waves for a catch. In the old days, many men in Jeju were lost at sea. They also had to pay heavy taxes, so the diving trade eventually passed over to the women who became the main breadwinner.  A declining trade today, with tourism contributing to most job opportunities, the haenyo declined in numbers. With an average age of 65, the iconic ladies continued to dive into depths of 20-30 metres with no oxygen tank, whether for a catch, often singing a poignant song. or sadly, to the throes of tourists and flashing cameras fighting to picture the amazing feat and the prize catch of an octopus or squid.

At a particularly touristy spot, I watched but could not bear to join the mob. Amidst the madness, a solemn expression of a haenyo catches, with faraway eyes that tell of a life past that I could not possibly imagine. I knew I would paint her, paint her story, paint the beautiful bright red shoe that she wore into the waters, paint the enigmatic person behind the matriarchal symbol that may one day pass into Jeju's colourful history..

Title: Haenyo 海女 (O95)
Description: A poignant depiction of the colourful Haenyo, sea women divers iconic in Jeju, Korea, who fight the wild waves for a catch in place of the men, who are today declining in numbers and a dying trade. Jeju Notes 2014.
Medium: Oil on Ready-to-Hang Canvas.
Dimensions: 76 x 76cm.

Purchase at: yen.artfire.com

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