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Hats: an important part of Korean culture

DIFFERENT hats shown at the ‘Korea, A Land of Hats’ exhibition.

OFTEN worn as an accessory or as protective gear, hats add personality to the wearer’s overall look. In Korea, hats completed an outfit and were traditionally worn at social events and to symbolize social rank.

“Korea, A Land of Hats,” an exhibit presented by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila — now called The M — with support from the Traveling Korean Arts project of the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), and done in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines (KCC) and Coreana Cosmetics Museum, features around 150 headpieces including heritage Korean traditional hats, and modern art works.

As creations of Korean National Intangible Cultural Heritage, Korean traditional hats exhibit both the beauty and the complexity of Korean craftsmanship.

The exhibition notes state that the hat, or moja, is more than a mere accessory. It is believed to be directly linked to one’s attitude, spirit, and life beyond serving practical and decorative functions. It was a unique piece of clothing culture that reflected the rich Korean history, the occasion, social values and status, and the wearer’s rank.

When Confucianism flourished in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), decorum was of high value and people maintained themselves well-kept from head to toe. A hat held social significance as an indicator of class as well as serving a practical purpose as head protection. Headpieces matched clothing and were classified by use into daily, going out, or ceremonial gear. Unlike in Western culture where it is considered polite to remove one’s hat when inside the house, Koreans kept the hat on as it was against etiquette to reveal a bare head, even indoors.

The exhibit begins with the artifacts section, and includes accessories and headdresses for women, men, and children predating the 19th Century. Men’s hats were mostly blue while women’s hats were red. Men’s hats had more variety in design as men were engaged in more social activities.

Highlighted in the exhibit is the gat — the most notable hat in the Joseon Dynasty. It has become famous among K-drama fans for its appearance in the Korean zombie series, Kingdom. Normally in black, the heuklip (black hat) has a wide brim and was worn by high-ranking military officials. It is secured by tying strings under the chin. The long gat strings were decorated with bamboo, jade, amber, coral and other precious stones to indicate the wearer’s social standing.

The exhibition also showcases hats created by the Korean National Intangible Cultural Heritage artisan for Gannil (gat hat making) Park Chang Young and its certified trainee Park Hyung Park. The process of gannil involves three basic steps: making the cylindrical hat with horsehair or bamboo; making the broad brim, called yangtae, with thin-split bamboo; and combining the hat and brim, adding fabric, and applying lacquer to complete the gat.

Along with the actual hats, the exhibition also presents specially curated contemporary artworks — paintings, photos, books and installation work.

The exhibit ends with a display of traditional Korean costume dolls from Baehwa Women’s University. The dolls recreate Korean clothing worn in different seasons by a child until they become an adult. A bride doll displays the traditional wedding headdress of the North Korean region, which shows the glamour of a traditional Korean wedding.

Before leaving the exhibit, guests can also try wearing hats and take pictures with a traditional Korean street background.

Adjacent to the exhibit is its local counterpart titled “Hat of the Matter,” an exhibit which features Filipino hats and examines Filipino contemporary artists’ interpretations of Philippine head gear.

WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE M“Korea, A Land of Hats” is the second exhibition of The M’s soft opening at its new location, following one featuring Ronald Ventura’s sculptures and paintings in the building’s alley and ground floor.

Metropolitan Museum of Manila President Florentina “Tina” Colayco said that The M is set to officially open in February 2023.

“We are gradually opening the spaces as they become available, and also because we have been planning some of the shows for some time,” Ms. Colayco told BusinessWorld during the launch of “Korea, A Land of Hats” on Oct. 21.

Designed by New York-based Filipino architect Carlos Arnaiz, The M takes up three floors and occupies over 3,000 square meters at the Mariano K. Tan Center in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. It houses exhibition spaces and the museum staff’s office. (Related story:

When other activities are viable, The M plans to host onsite workshops for teachers and students.

“Education has always been a big component of what we have always been doing. We plan to have teacher’s training for public school teachers, but we had to put a hold on that because school was out (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). But now that the museums are starting to open their spaces, we could probably continue holding workshops for teachers, kids, and viewings for the disabled,” Ms. Colayco said.

In December, The M will launch the “Elusive Edge,” an exhibition which will highlight the history of Philippine abstraction, curated by Patrick D. Flores. As a tribute, it will include works by National Artist for Visual Arts Arturo Luz who was the Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s first director.

“We really hope to be deeply engaged with the community because our philosophy from before was really ‘Art for All.’ I think museums now are more open and more inclusive — all the more because we are part of a new environment now,” Ms. Colayco said.

The original Metropolitan Museum of Manila building opened along Roxas Boulevard in Manila in 1975. It was initially a venue for international art exhibitions, showing works from the Brooklyn Museum and other American museums and galleries. In 1986, it shifted its focus towards local works, started offering bilingual exhibition texts, and developing outreach educational programs.

“Korea, A Land of Hats” if open to the public for free until Nov. 30. The M is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MK Tan Centre, 30th St., Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Reservations are required and guests are advised to wait for a confirmation letter from The M. The visit will be by appointment and is opened to maximum of 20 people. One can book a visit at —  Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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