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  • Collecting Korean things: Actors in the formation of Korean collections in Britain (1876-1961)

Hong, Ji Hye, 2021, Thesis, Collecting Korean things: Actors in the formation of Korean collections in Britain (1876-1961) PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This study investigates the British collecting of Korean objects in order to understand the transnational patterns and networks of material culture involved in the formation of British perceptions of Korea from 1876 to 1961. It focuses primarily on the mechanisms of collecting that prevailed in this period. As a result, it reveals the various actors involved and explores the collaborative processes that influenced and impacted collecting practices within the context of cultural identity.

The timeframe of the thesis begins with the opening of Korea’s ports, forced by Japan, in the late 1870s, encompasses Japanese annexation and concludes in the post-colonial period. This study is largely divided into three chronological parts, each of which represents a distinct period of political, social and cultural change. These also indicate the significant transitional aspects of collecting that are reflected in mainly British collections and publications.

The first chapter looks into Britain’s initial encounters with Korea in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in terms of British perceptions of Korea, through travellers’ accounts and scholarly literature. Using the examples of tiger skins and ceramics, it argues that the early display and collection of Korean art in Britain was limited, due to a scarcity of knowledge about Japanese and British imperialism. It was also affected by issues of authenticity emerging from Korea’s colonial modernity. The second chapter pivots around the turning point of 1910, when the dramatic changes caused by Japan’s annexation of Korea led to the arrival of increasing numbers of tourists and first-hand collectors, who in turn provided a new market for curio dealers in Korea. This chapter is primarily built on an examination of these dealers and the documentation/articles relating to their activity. The third chapter explores the impact of the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, staged against a backdrop of mixed feelings about Japan’s status on the international scene. The colonial impetus behind this exhibition was shared with concomitant exhibitions in Tokyo and Seoul. It can be juxtaposed with the South
Korean government’s 1961 campaign to promote Korean art globally, which enables a discussion of the critical dilemma encountered when dealing with colonial data and knowledge. A final chapter considers the moon jar in the British Museum’s collection, renowned for its
connection to several British studio potters. This chapter challenges the dominance of Yanagi Sōetsu’s legacy in the history of the moon jar by examining concurrent cultural movements and collecting fashions in Korea within the context of the nationalist movement and the reinterpretation of tradition by Korean artists and collectors during the 1930s.

This thesis adopts an Actor-Network Theory (ANT) approach, which allows for autonomous performance in the agency of actors, within the idea of culture as a network of association. This theoretical framing reveals the complex transnational nature of collecting, and the overlapping of different colonial regimes and forms of colonial modernity. This study therefore challenges the long tradition of British and Japanese Orientalist approaches, and the way in which their intertwined relationships have imposed a master narrative upon the aesthetic values and appreciation of Korean material culture since the late nineteenth century. The unveiling of a variety of actors in this context contributes to a new micro-history and cultural narrative that will continue to support and build upon contemporary decolonising discourses in the art and design history of Korea, as well as in the current museological context.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V200 History by area > V210 British History
Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V200 History by area > V240 Asian History
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Uncontrolled Keywords: transnational collecting; colonial modernity; micro-history of collecting; decolonising design history of Korea
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2021 09:24
Last Modified: 21 Oct 2021 09:24
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4912
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