The Joseon Fine Art Exhibition under Japanese Colonial Rule

Lee, Yoon Yung 이윤영
Supervisor: Dr. Y.W. Koon

At the turn of the twentieth century, as Japan expanded its territory by colonizing other Asian nations, the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was signed in 1910 and Korea lost its sovereignty. In Political turmoil, the formation of national and cultural identity was constantly challenged, and the struggle was not argued in words alone. It was also embedded in various types of visual cultures, with narratives changing under the shifting political climate. This thesis focuses on paintings exhibited in the Joseon Mijeon (The Joseon Fine Art Exhibition) (1922-1944), which was supervised by the Japanese colonial government and dominated, in the beginning, by Japanese artists and jurors. By closely examining paintings of ‘local color’ and ‘provincial color’, which emphasized the essence of a “Korean” culture that accentuated its Otherness based on cultural stereotypes, the thesis explores how representations of Korea both differentiated it from Japan and characterized its relationship with the West.

In order to legitimize its colonial rule, politically driven ideologies of pan-Asianism (the pursuit of a unified Asia) and Japanese Orientalism (the imperialistic perception of the rest of Asia) were evident in the state-approved arts. The thesis explores how the tension of modern Japan as both promoting an egalitarian Asia and asserting its superiority within Asia was shown in the popular images that circulated in the form of postcards, manga, magazine illustrations, and more importantly in paintings. Moreover, this project examines both the artists who actively submitted works to the Joseon Mijeon and the group of artists who opposed the Joseon Mijeon and worked outside of the state-approved system to consider the complexity of responses by artists who sought to be both modern and Korean under Japanese colonial rule.