VMPEA: Boyoung Chang
“Reconstructing the Nation: contemporary Korean photography since the 1990s”
Boyoung Chang, PhD., Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Art History
Discussant: Tingting Xu, PhD candidate, Department of Art History
Abstract: This presentation discusses the photography of South Korean photographers, focusing on the medium’s relationship with the political and societal changes in and around the country that started in the late 1980s. Focusing on art photography that took various formats from documentary to the performative, encompassing the staged, portraits, and snapshots, it addresses the development of a medium that is intertwined with the transformation of Korean society. Represented with democratization and globalization, South Korea reorganized its political system and opened its doors to the world in this era. I argue that the transformation of contemporary Korean art photography is not only a reflection of this essential reconstruction of the nation’s identity but that of the medium itself, with its performative nature, mediating the process. The exploration starts from the early practices of the mid-20th century Korean photography and moves on to the thematic discussions of how contemporary photography addressed the key issues that mark the transition. When the long history of military dictatorship ended and democracy arrived in Korea, the nation reestablished its identity by declaring a break from the past, refashioning its history, and building new relationships with other countries, including North Korea. This research argues that the history of Korean photography parallels these shifts. Unlike the photographers of the past, contemporary photographers, with newly obtained freedom and various photographic languages, revisited the repressed history, reinterpreted official history, and deconstructed it according to the changed socio-political climate. As the state-led globalization transformed Korean identity into the international context, Korean photography too went through the process of challenging the preexisting notions and striving to position itself in global photography. Fully incorporating the social, political, and cultural history of Korea and the surrounding international contexts, this research takes an interdisciplinary approach in articulating the history of the nation’s photography. With an emphasis on a need to contextualize artistic practices into its society, it improves the understanding of contemporary Korea and its photographic practices.
About VMPEA: The Visual and Material Perspectives on East Asia Workshop is oriented toward the study of visual and material objects, built environments, and the relationship between text and image from East Asia. It explores a plethora of visual and textual materials across a variety of historical periods and geographic locations in order to understand socio-political, cultural, and historical aspects of China, Japan, and Korea. While being based in art history, the Workshop is committed to interdisciplinary inquiries and perspectives, including but not limited to archaeology, anthropology, architecture, literature, religion studies, cinema and media studies, and museum studies. With visual evidence as the basis of our inquiries, our workshops are opportunities for collaborative examination and discussion of these vital materials. As such, we offer speakers the opportunity for open-ended exploration and discussions of the presented materials, in addition to the traditional formats of pre-circulating papers and respondents. This kind of collaborative “thinking through materials” is crucial to visual and object-based study, and we are renowned even among scholars outside of the University for our rigorous discussion sessions. While the Workshop invites outside speakers as an opportunity to encourage intellectual exchanges between students and established scholars, graduate students from the University are prioritized in our program. Recent visitors have included Stanley Abe, Zhang Jianyu, Huiping Pang, Yukio Lippit, Corey Byrnes, Deng Fei, Noriko Murai. In addition, the Workshop is a forum for joint-workshops, interdisciplinary and cultural events related to East Asian topics.