Iowa Writes


South Korea is home to a race of half-scale diorama people. They live in museums. They are almost always men, and these men almost always wear traditional white jackets with white pants and a certain kind of traditional black hat. They are immaculate. They are also industrious, always building temples or making paper or honing some ancient craft. The living people of Korea are by no means so homogeneous, yet their avatars share one age, one coloring, one size. Indeed, the diorama people are, in nearly every respect, utterly uniform. They are indistinguishable from one province to another, the same in Jinju or Busan, the same no matter what era or dynasty they represent, and no different in a little local museum than on display in a national institution. No matter what their industry, their garments are always pristine.

I saw the diorama people everywhere I went in Korea, in absolutely every museum. I saw them weaving bamboo baskets and combating the Japanese and once, a figure absolutely alone, quietly painting a scroll. I began to imagine the half-height men at night, how they must have moved then. I imagined them trading places with each other, waiting until their exhibition went dark and then secreting themselves through half-height tunnels, running for hours and hours and then popping out in the displays of other museums. I could see them, friends reunited, patting each other on the back, sharing news and soju and noodles until the morning drew near. And then they would dutifully take their places, like nothing had happened, their expressions all the same. How else could they stand it, the monotony, except that sometimes they were frozen as potters applying a glaze, and sometimes they were unmoving sitting two abreast, rowing a fishing boat out to sea?

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


A. Kendra Greene is a Jacob K. Javits Fellow at the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program and the Center for the Book. While writing an essay collection about museums she is also letterpress printing excerpts and short essays from the project as broadsides. .

This page was first displayed
on November 11, 2011

Find us on Facebook