The Buddha smiles

The figure of the Buddha smiling or even laughing is well known and I saw several in Korea.  We understand it in terms of the two parts of Buddha’s life — that which happens before his enlightenment and that which happens after.  The first part is characterized by a searching intensity and the denial of a bodily existence.  So thin was he, the legend says, that, when he sat in dust, he left the mark of a camel’s hoof.

The emaciated Buddha under the Bo-Tree

After the enlightenment the image of the Buddha changes — mostly the visage is strong and peaceful, and it is noticeable how many images there are of exuberant enjoyment of life:  the smile and laughter from the gut.  And the happily-fat, flourishing paunch.

One wonders about the strangeness of this in a Christian context.  Yet there are two images that we know of where Christ is on the cross and smiling.  One, I heard, is in Switzerland and the other I was privileged to see in the Cathedral of St Honorat on the Island of Lerins, near Cannes, one of the earliest monasteries in Europe.  It has been said that this rare smile has to do with the resurrection.

Christ Souriant, St Honorat

In the case of the Buddha it has to do with joie de vivre, the belief that body and soul are one and that the spiritual life has lust for living.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

June, 2019



My photographs

Christ souriant – source lost  

                                              This image is in my study in Somerset West, Western Cape



Patterns, forms, textures from South Korea

The first in a series of two

I’ve always liked photographic  images that aspire to be abstract.  I share those that I took in South Korea.  What they actually were, I indicate at the end.

(c) Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2019


Image details

1  Seafood that jumps at you, Daeso food market

2  Wire scuplture, Jamsil, Seoul

3  Some delicacy in the universe of Korean food, Daeso foodmarket

4  The roof of Hangang World Cup Stadium, east Seoul

5  Green leaves, white snow, Daeso 

6  Mandu, the tastiest food on earth 

7  Marble wall, but goodness knows where I took it

8  Pattern on the roof of the admin offices, Bongeunsa temple, Samseong, Seoul

9 Wood patterning in shop, Myongdong, Seoul

10  Snow tracks, Daeso 


Patterns, forms, textures from South Korea

The second in a series of two

There were more photographic images that aspired to be abstract.  The details of what they appear at the end.



(c) Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2019


Image details

1  Korean cookies, dangerously tasty

2  Olympic Stadium, Jamsil 1988, east Seoul

3  Texture on pot by potter Seo Byongho, Daeso

4  Some delicacy in the universe of Korean food, Daeso foodmarket 

5  Seats at Olympic Stadium, Jamsil, east Seoul

6  Snow tracks, Daeso

7  Building and tree, Myongdong, Seoul

8  Prize-winning pot by potter Seo Byongho, Daeso 

9  Bird in field, near Daeso 






The warriors, the soldiers – some depictions

When does a soldier become a warrior?  Perhaps, in reality, they are precisely the same thing.  It is our perceptions of them, the purposes of our depictions of them, that make a difference between the two.

At the Centotaph in Cape Town, erected after the First World War, there is the figure of a soldier with his ready bayonet.

The Centotaph at Durban has a bronze relief depicting British soldiers in a scene from the Anglo-Boer War.

I am uncertain if I call the figure at the feet of the Paul Kruger statue in Pretoria a soldier.  He has a rifle, but he is lost in thought.  An action stance would make him more of a soldier.  Or is it what a soldier looks like when the war has been lost?

It is easy for South Africans to apply the word warrior to Shaka Zulu, the leader of the Zulu people in the early-19th century.  This depiction, it is maintained, is of Shaka Zulu, a warrior in full cry.  Other depictions of him have been more stately.


In Bongeunsa, southern Seoul, the entry portals of the Buddhist monastery display these depictions of warriors.  The stylization and the flambouyant colour swirls show the reverence and affection for the memory of these warriors.  The warrior-monks of Bongeunsa have a proud history of resistance to the Japanese invasions which happened from time to time in history.

I was interested to find this relief in the pediment on which a 20-metre figure of Buddha was standing.  I would say here the warrior-soldier dichotomy now become one.

There were many depictions of warriors in various places in Korea.  At Ichon, I was intrigued by the modern-day tribute to soldiers fighting in the civil war of 1950-1953, Koreans and Americans, side by side.  This scene of soldiers is extensive and has the War Memorial as a backdrop.  The colours have gone.

Do we, as the post-Sixties generation, see the depiction of soldiers differently?  Do we, despite our ideologies, not find ourselves honouring soldiers for what they went through?  Can we afford a fundamentally new meaning and purpose for  warrior energy that we potentially have?

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2019



Cape Town Centotaph – Cape Town Daily

Durban Centotaph – Wikipedia

Kruger statue – Pinterest

Shaka Zulu – Wikipedia

Korean images – my phgotographs




Small-scale buildings, South Korea

If the South Koreans have produced some of the most striking skyscrapers in the world, they have also revolutionized the art of designing small-scale buildings, mostly two and three storeys high.

Insa-Dong. Unashamedly arty.

Insa-Dong, the mall street in central Seoul, has been the site of much experimental design.  I suspect that it was one of the areas in Seoul that was badly bombed in the civil war. This meant that the centuries-old traditional buildings were razed to the ground and on the dust and ash of the past, modern architecture could rise.

Insa-Dong. A building that jumps at you with its childlike simpliçcity and orange-y red bricks!

I saw other small-scale modern buildings.  One of them was in Daeso, the small town where I taught for a year.  The façade of this building is about as playful as it gets.

Daeso Public Library

When I saw this building in Chomoroso, an area in north Seoul, I realized that architecture can also have a sense of humour.


In the skyscraper revolution, as well as the small-scale buildings, amongst other things, you see the spirit of the people of South Korea.  They came through what has been described as the worst civil war in the 20th-century, graduating to a position of respect, triumph and admirable creativity.

Insa Dong. INS Building.

When I was in South Korea, they were ranked as the 12th richest country in the world.  That is remarkable.  With this money, hard work and creativity they have produced, with their small-scale buildings, to mention only that, something special.


Central Seoul. A modern version of the traditional contrasted with the modern

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2019


My photographs

Insa-Dong. Interesting use of wood beams in the facade.


Insa-Dong. A private house.





The Image of the Dragon In Korea

The world is a big place.  Many things that I experienced in Korea brought home the feeling of this bigness, rather than a flip thought.  One of them was the frequently-displayed swastika which has a gut reaction in me.  I soon learnt that (a) the symbol was reversed and ancient, (b) it is close to universal, as an image, and (c) it signifies health in the Buddhist faith.  The second was the image of the dragon.

In the West, it goes without saying, the image of the dragon is negative:  the Greek origin of the word is that of “the huge serpent”, bearing then, a negative aura since Adam and Eve.  St George slays the dragon in many Christian images over the centuries and the Good triumphs over Evil.  In South Africa, something of the awe of the dragon is captured in the name of the highest mountain range, the Drakensberg.

St George and the Dragon. Etching by Corbin

In Korea, it is different.  This creature is seen as beneficent, a powerful king.  Children, especially, take delight in the portrayal of the dragon and even performing it.  (See Chinese New Year festivals with the performing of the dragon in streets.)  The portrayals on drums are swirls of colour.

The features are grotesque, yes, though grotesquerie may be seen differently in Korea from the way it is seen in the West.  This I learnt especially in seeing the Jangseun, the traditional carvings of faces on logs.  With the dragon, there is something suave in those gross features.  I remember seeing only one sculpture of a dragon which I found striking.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes



My photographs

St George – 


See also on

Jangseung – Grotesquerie at Hahoe Village 16.09.2012


Korean fans

On the day that I visited Chomorosa, a suburb of northern Seoul, I saw, amongst the many other historical things, an exhibition of fans –  buchae  -, some dating from the Josean period 600 years ago.


Most of them were not decorated, but were fashioned from special paper.  Could that be rice paper?


The two that were decorated were exceptional.


If one looks at images of women in traditional garb there were many accoutrements for the ladies of the court, the fan being the proverbial cherry on top.

There is a long colourful history of dancing with fans in Korea.  The women who dance wear traditional dresses and often carry two fans each.  These dances express the beauty of nature through dance:  they mime the movements of butterflies, form flowers and mime ocean waves with these fans.

I saw modern fans at Insa Dong, the street mall near the centre of Seoul.   A clear departure from tradition.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

February, 2019



Korean paper fans



My photographs


In Andong, I saw an artist personalising fans with messages

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