In haunting paintings and mixed-media works, SoHyun Bae visualizes themes and figures traditionally suppressed in Korean culture. Often done in a muted palette of white, gray, and beige, her surfaces suggest forms while also alluding to latent narratives and alternate histories. Bae is particularly influenced by the lack of female portraiture in the Josun Dynasty (1392–1910), a period in which many of the country’s mores and much of its culture developed. Many of her works offer a belated corrective to its absence of female representation by depicting women or referring to traditionally female Korean handicrafts.
In her Bearing the Burden series Bae continues her examination of the human condition through the lens of the female experience. Beginning in 2009, Bae embarked on this series of depictions of common Korean women of the Joseon Era who carried items on their heads such as bott-ari (objects wrapped in cloths), hang-a-ri (ceramic vessels), and ppar-lae (buckets of laundry). She painted them in the sepia tones that capture the light of a distant world. Now, more than ever, these works speak to the weight that society places on women. Although the items carried are literal, they serve as metaphors for the responsibilities of domestic life, caregiving and both the physical and emotional unpaid labor women overwhelmingly bear the burden of. This series stands as a tribute to the importance of a woman’s labor. While these loads are often carried without recognition, the impact of a woman’s sacrifice and love is felt by those they cared for long after she has left this physical world.