Many words describe Jiha Moon's incredible exhibition at Sumter gallery


Imagine that Walt Disney's animation crew from "Fantasia" and "Alice in Wonderland" created a painting project; then grab a Thesaurus: bold, sensitive, creative, mystical, powerful, delicate, voluminous. Welcome to Korean artist Jiha Moon's "A Mad Tea Party," the current exhibition at the Sumter County Gallery of Art.

Actually there are many words that describe Moon's - who resides in Atlanta and teaches at Georgia State University - incredible exhibition. In her preview to the exhibit, features contributor for The Sumter Item, Ivy Moore, quotes several critics, all of whom cite Moon's expertise as a painter, printmaker and ceramicist. Filled with a mash up of symbols, images and references to Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Western cultural, Moon's work seems joyful and imaginative. Closer examination reveals deeper and more significant meanings and references. Even if the images seem overpowering, there is no doubting the impact of the vibrant display.

Seen "The Angry Birds" or "Hello Kitty," which appear on clothing and in comic books? Somehow Moon manages to combine eras and cultures to produce dynamically delicate effects. Her tea ceremony installation (her largest to date) features five low Korean tables and burgundy pillows, which were sewn by her 92-year-old grandmother. The tables themselves are laden with imaginative, exquisite ceramic pieces that would enthrall even Alice's Mad Hatter.

"Lucky Monster, Keep Calm and Carry On" exemplifies the multicultural hallmark of Moon's work and incorporates the newest character of her cast, "Grumpy Cat." Look carefully and you just might recognize how you have felt some days and the appropriateness of the ubiquitous British saying.

Like most of the work, both "Farmer's Song" and "Chrysalis," utilize Hanji paper (traditional Korean mulberry paper) created in the third century and prized for its durability, reflect Moon's control with textures like the silk background and the fan shape used often throughout her work. It is important to enjoy the variety of colors, textures and images, just reveling in the creativity and not stressing about the significance of dragons and other objects.

Moon's works, like her mixed media collage "All Kinds of Everything," are magnificent assortments - wind, fortune cookies, animals - and rather like a wonderful soup, possible to enjoy without knowing all the ingredients.

Moon also includes masks and Norigae, a Korean accessory "often hung from a woman's coat strings or skirt as a good luck charm to bring back youth or to have many children." Lined against the wall, the hangings are composed of four parts. Hung in a row as they are in the gallery, the Norigae gain a creative and colorful momentum. The masks are large and present. "Chung Saja," made of earthenware, synthetic hair and wire, sports a cascade of denim hair. "Lucky Hog" features an earthenware hog's face with snout and cleverly fashioned "fortune cookie" ears.

Very possibly one visit will not be enough. There is a doctoral thesis of information, but more importantly, hours of plain joy in Moon's work. Jiha Moon's "A Mad Tea Party" runs from Sept. 5 through Nov. 1. The Sumter County Gallery of Art is located at 200 Hasell St. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.