Disappearing deep sea-diving island community portrayed by Mikhail Karikis at Arnolfini

By Culture24 Reporter | 15 January 2013
A photo of a female diver out at sea in a black websuit next to an orange buoy
© Mikhail Karikis

Installation preview: SeaWomen, Arnolfini, Bristol, until January 20 2013

Greek-British artist Mikhail Karikis likes to create poetic studies sculptural and conceptual possibilities of the human voice.

A photo of a group of female Asian deep sea divers on a boat wearing black wetsuits
© Mikhail Karikis
His new film and sound installation, focusing on a vanishing community of elderly female sea workers on the North Pacific island of Jeju, portrays a group known as “haenyeo” (sea-women) – aged between 60 and 90, these intrepid and brave divers plunge fearsome depths without an oxygen supply in search of seafood, seaweed and pearls.

They used to be a dominant economic force on the island, which itself is something of a one-off, floating on a black volcanic rock between South Korea, Japan and China. A matriarchal society within the male-dominated Korean culture, the haenyeo are now on the verge of disappearance.

Karikis records their vocal “bursts” as they emerge from the water.  Their breathing technique is known as sumbisori, punctuating each dive in a high-pitched, breathy shriek passed between generations, transmitted from mother to daughter when a new haenyeo begins training at the age of eight.

These wheezes, whistles and gasping calls are described as both alarming and joyous, and Karikis took part himself, completing a series of watercolours while holding his breath.

The installation also sounds their work songs, debates about territory and discussions of pay and unionisation.

  • Open 11am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @ArnolfiniArts.
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