Friday, 9 December 2016

Flore-Aël Surun | 10,000 Spirits


© Flore-Aël Surun - All Rights Reserved
After my return from Hanoi where I launched my Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Viet Nam photo book, I am naturally keen to start on a new long term project, and researching Asian spirit mediumship, I found Korean shamanism to have many similarities to the Vietnamese Hầu Đồng rituals I spent almost two years photographing. By the way, it is said that shamanism is what humans followed before the advent of organized religion.
The Korean shamans are called "mudang", and are usually female (in contrast to the "gender equality" amongst Vietnamese spirit mediumship practitioners). They are known to perform ceremonies called gut in local villages, to cure illness, bring good luck or plentiful harvests, banish evil spirits or demons, and ask favors of the gods. After a death, the mudang also help the soul of the departed find the path to heaven. They communicate with ancestral spirits, nature spirits, and other supernatural forces.
There are two varieties of mudang. The kangshinmu, who become shamans through training and then spiritual possession by a god, and the seseummu, who receive their power through heredity. In both cases, the mudang is initiated after a process called shinbyeong, or "spirit sickness."
The spirit sickness often includes a sudden loss of appetite, physical weakness, hallucinations, and communication with the spirits or gods. The only cure for shinbyeong is the initiation rite, or gangshinje, in which the mudang accepts into her body the spirit that will bring her shamanist powers. This has some similarities to what the Vietnamese spirit mediums experience, although in their case, initiation rites with a master medium must occur.

Flore-Aël Surun's photographs of South Koreans shamans in her 10,000 Spirits gallery consists of more than a dozen photographs of the practitioners either performing their craft or portraits. She tells us that " A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing."

She has also produced a short photo-film of her photographs accompanied by the audio of the shamans' chants. It is well worth viewing as it gives an added dimension to the eeriness of the practice.




Flore-Aël Surun studied photography in Paris, then lived in Romania for a year totally immersed in the daily life of kids living on the streets of Bucharest. This documentary, entitled “Sur-vie sous” (Survival Under) was awarded the Special Jury Prize of the Angers Festival of Scoop and Journalism in 1999. In 2001, commissioned by the Joop Start Masterclass, she made the documentary “FTM-MTF”, a series of portraits of women who have become men, which questions the notion of identity.

Since 2002, she has begun a series of documentaries on world peace which have led her to join a Buddhist march in the Negev Desert, hideouts in Canada for young American deserters and among other places, a village in which the three great religions coexist.