The construction of national identity in South Korea and the tradition of masculinity in Korean abstract painting

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Abstract

Korean Modern Art History began to be produced in the 1970s, when Western Modernist Art History, based on Formalism, was introduced as a matrix to map the 'evolution' of 20th century Korean Art. Korean modern art history is based in the same paradigm as the West, beginning with Impressionism and 'ending' with Abstract Expressionism. First introduced to the country from the West immediately after the Korean War, Korean Abstract Expressionism is now deemed as South Korea's ultimate 'progressive' and 'modern' art form, a 'Korean' painting style combining the Western art form with traditional artistic concepts of 'Scholarly Painting' (muninhwa). Japanese-influenced painting styles originating in the colonial period (1910-45) are rejected as 'non-authentic.' The problem is that Scholarly Painting was a gender and class specific art born from the rigid Confucian culture of pre-modern Korea, and thus its revival as an 'ultimate modern' and 'Korean' form has the consequence of locating traditionally-gendered notions of art and artist at the core of the South's modern art. This essay uses a Semiotic approach to deconstruct this gendered modernist rhetoric by tracing the emergence of the sign 'Koreaness' in South Korean modern art, showing how it is defined within Korean Abstract Painting as an 'ultimate Korean sign' and how its use of anti-Japanese rhetoric covers up the traumatic history of the Korean War.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-389
Number of pages23
JournalInter-Asia Cultural Studies
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Jan

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies

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