There is one place in South Korea that could perplex you, but in a good way. The Museum of African Art in the South Korean island of Jeju will transport you to Africa while you are still physically in Asia. Housed in a magnificent full-size replica of the Grand Mosque of Djenne, a 13th-century mosque in Mali, South Africa, Jeju-do’s Museum of African Art could very well be the best representative of African culture and collection of African art in Asia.
Also known as the Africa Museum, this wide repository of historical artifacts and modern African art pieces opened in 1998 and now holds the largest African collection in all of Asia. It highlights the African continent’s greatest contribution to mankind and the world, including the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup despite the continent’s pressing poverty.
Africa Museum is just one of the many unique museums in the island of Jeju. Some of these frequently visited museums are Jeju Education Museum, which shows the island’s rich history and culture; Jeju Independence Museum, which highlights the past struggles of local islanders against the Japanese Imperial Army; Haenyeo Museum, specifically dedicated to the Haenyeo woman divers; Green Tea Museum, explaining the history and processing of tea; Jeju April 3rd Peace Park, which is all about the tragic event that happened on April 3, 1948; Miniature Theme Park (or Mini World), which highlights miniature replicas of several national icons in the world such as the Taj Mahal and the Leaning Tower of Pisa; Sculpture Park, a relaxing park with 160 sculptures; and finally the three most interesting ones – Teddy Bear Museum, “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” Museum and Jeju Loveland.
Teddy Bear Museum, as the name suggests, displays a huge collection of cute Teddy Bear dolls from different parts of the globe. This cute museum was originally opened for European collectors. Then there’s “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum, a collection of oddities, of the bizarre and exotic from all over the world. These two museums are just across each other near Seogwipo. Jeju Loveland is the most bizarre of all. It is an open park that displays 140 sculptures of life-size human figures in different sexual positions. This is one museum that is definitely not for children. Located only 10 minutes away from the international airport, this Rated R museum is open until past midnight.
Meanwhile, you can also consider the Museum of African Art quite odd. What does Korea have to do with Africa in the first place? Han Sung Bin, the museum’s deputy director explains, “Jeju and Kenya, in East Africa, have a similar influence, similar atmosphere. Also, you know, we don’t have any (shared) cultural background but if you’re involved in anthropology and archeology, we have some similarities.”
Han is an expert in African culture and is definitely passionate about the continent. He has lived in Africa for three years and laments that “It’s hard for some Koreans to intermingle with other cultural backgrounds (and) civilizations, so it’s the hardest thing that I struggle with.” He hopes that soon more and more Koreans would appreciate African culture and the Museum of African Art. A similar museum is also found in the mainland.