Haenyo Emerging for Air

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Artist Statement

 

Haenyo, literally meaning “sea women”, are the female deep-sea divers of Jeju-do, South Korea. They live a dual lifestyle—one belonging to the land and the other to the sea. It is easy to see how the mermaid myth began as you watch the Haenyo surface from the deep. Haenyo also communicate with song and whistles, contributing further to their mythical status. With mermaid statues scattered throughout the coast of this island, it’s clear that these women are upholding a tradition as well as supporting a myth.

Haenyo perform perilous work to provide for their families, spending five hours a day diving in rubber suits, without air tanks as the law requires, to collect valuable sea life attached to the bottom of the ocean floor. They can hold their breath for more than three minutes and dive to depths of thirty meters. Because tradition dictates that only women dive, the Haenyo have created a matriarchal society on the island that differs greatly from the patriarchal one on the mainland of South Korea.

Today, the number of Haenyo is declining drastically and its tradition is in danger of extinction as fewer women are choosing it as a profession due to better opportunities and industrialization.

 

Ian Baguskas | See All Editions

 

Ian Baguskas grew up in Philadelphia, PA, and moved to New York on a full scholarship to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where he received his BFA. Ian is represented by Jen Bekman Gallery in New York, where he had his debut solo show, Sweet Water, in 2008. Other exhibitions include Mixtape at Jen Bekman Gallery, in 2009; In Search of the Magnificent at the CCNY Art Gallery, in 2009; You Might Find Yourself at the Ice Box at Philadelphia's Crane Arts, in 2008; The Interactive Landscape at Mt. Tremper Arts, in New York, in 2007; and Hey, Hot Shot! Ne Plus Ultra 2007 Annual and Hey, Hot Shot! 2006 Spring Showcase at Jen Bekman Gallery. In 2008, Baguskas was named a PDN 30, one of the top 30 emerging photographers by Photo District News, and was a winner of Magenta's Flash Forward award for emerging photographers. He was also nominated for the KLM Paul Huf Award. In 2007, he was honored as one of four finalists for the Aperture Portfolio Prize, and was a winner of the Ne Plus Ultra, Hey, Hot Shot! Annual. Baguskas' work has been published in Theme, Flash Forward - Emerging Photographers 2008, Culture + Travel, Next American City, Photo Art, Avenue L and Photo District News. Traveling extensively with 4x5 and 6x7 film cameras, Baguskas continues to make photographs based on ideas about modern exploration and travel in the West. Ian has also spent some time in South Korea working on his projects Sansaram, which follows the hiking culture throughout the country, and Haenyo, which documents the dying tradition of the female divers on Jeju Island.