Hallyu! The Korean Wave: About the exhibition

Produced as part of Hallyu! The Korean Wave

From K-Pop costumes to K-drama props and posters, alongside photography, sculpture, fashion, video and pop culture ephemera, the exhibition invites visitors to delve into the phenomenon known as 'hallyu' – meaning 'Korean Wave'. Hallyu rose to prominence in the late 1990s, rippling across Asia before reaching all corners of the world and challenging the currents of global pop culture today.

Hallyu! The Korean Wave explores the makings of the Korean Wave through cinema, drama, music and fandoms, and underline its cultural impact on the beauty and fashion industries. The exhibition features around 200 objects alongside pop culture ephemera and digital displays across four thematic sections.

From Rubble to Smartphones

Section one provides historical context to the meteoric rise of hallyu, highlighting how – within living memory – South Korea rapidly evolved from a country ravaged by war in the late 1950s to a leading cultural powerhouse by the early 2000s.

Korea's modern history is represented and explored in the exhibition through photography, posters and archive materials, alongside objects ranging from Olympics posters to early examples of electronics – including the world's first commercial MP3 player – and a monumental 1986 video sculpture by artist Nam June Paik, featuring 33 TV monitors.

Gangnam view of Hyundai apartment blocks
Gangnam view of Hyundai apartment blocks. Photo Jun Min Cho, courtesy Museum of Contemporary History of Korea

Spotlighting K-drama and Cinema

Section two focuses on the remarkable success of K-drama and film, charting in turn their rise in popularity from the late 1990s to the present day, through multimedia, installations, posters, storyboards, props and costumes. Highlights in this section include the iconic pink guard costumes and green tracksuit from hit Netflix series Squid Game, and a recreation of the bathroom set from Bong Joon-Ho's Oscar-winning film Parasite.

Parasite poster.
Parasite poster. Image courtesy Curzon Film

Traditional Korean costumes and props are also on display, including hats seen in Joseon era zombie series Kingdom, and the grooming kit from The Handmaiden. Finally, this section showcases webtoons, a Korean innovation of digital cartoons designed for mobile devices, as a source of inspiration for many K-dramas.

Sounding K-pop and Fandoms

The third section delves into the explosion of K-Pop music around the world, as well as underlining the crucial roles social media and fandoms play in increasing their reach.

Highlights include a monumental three-metre-high sculpture of G-Dragon by Gwon Osang, aespa's original iridescent outfits from the music video Next Level, and British punk fashion-inspired ensembles worn by four members of ATEEZ in the music video Fireworks. For this section the V&A has also worked with celebrated K-pop Style and Visual Director Geeeun, who has styled idols like BLACKPINK and BIGBANG, and Style Director Balko, who has worked with BTS and NCT, to design two new 'Idol' looks each.

Painted sculpture
Painted sculpture, "Untitled G-Dragon, A Space of No Name", by Gwon Osang. © Courtesy Gwon Osang

Making K-beauty and Fashion

The final section presents K-beauty and fashion, underlining their origin whilst showcasing their innovative and experimental approach that led to new aesthetic standards both inside and outside of Korea.

Featuring cosmetics packaging from the 13th century to the present day, the exhibition traces packaging's design evolution, from ornate porcelain pots to items including face mask wrappings boasting idols as superheroes.

Hallyu! concludes with K-fashion, showcasing over 20 looks by contemporary hanbok and fashion designers from Korea and the Korean diaspora. On display is a look specially created for the V&A by acclaimed stylist Suh Younghee, alongside a K-pop hanbok by C-ZANN E, a pink jacket by Danha, and a purple cheollik dress by Tchai Kim, drawing their inspiration from traditional garments and patterns. The section also features hanbok-inspired daily wear designed for and by a younger generation, including Ji Won Choi and Darcycom.

Saekdong by Darcygom
Saekdong by Darcygom. Photo Jihoon Jung, courtesy Darcygom
Background image: A Netflix Original Series. Squid Game Artwork © 2021 Netflix. All Rights Reserved