White Flower Bride (백화 신부) (2016)

White Flower Bride (백화 신부), 2016

White Flower Bride (백화 신부), 2016, photographic lightbox, 60 x 90 cm, installation view: Unfinished Business, SOMA Artspace, Berlin, 2021, curated by Nabi Nara, photo: Aleks Slota

The wry mimic of a bridal portrait, Baek Hwa Shinbu alludes to the ubiquitous type of cosmetic surgery advertising that implies after going under the knife, the ultimate female wish will be fulfilled – getting married! The title refers to the famous fictional Kisaeng (Korean Geisha) from the Goryeo dynasty called Baek Hwa (White Flower), who was betrothed to be married but was forced to be a Kisaeng by her family. She tried to be virtuous and stay faithful to her fiancé, but ended up killing herself to protect her chastity. Bae Hwa (White Flower) became a 1930s archetype in the colonial genre of “Paintings of Beautiful Women (미인도).” Both Japanese and Korean male artists portrayed such young beautiful virtuous heroines as innocent yet sexually charged. Such colonial representations of Korean women during the Japanese Colonial period were circulated to reinforce a sexualized and objectified subordinate female. In this work, RHEE employs a manipulated image of herself as Baek Hwa and is reborn with the assistance of cosmetic surgery and ready to be married.
On a side note, according to folklore, Korean women who die before getting married are destined to feel unfulfilled and become restless spirits (귀신) who refuse to move to the afterlife and remain on earth to torment the living.