Korean Art PhD: ‘Picturing Migration: Presenting Art Works By Artists From South Korea Working In Britain, 2006-2008’

LKL contributor Dr Beccy Kennedy gives a flavour of what she has been working on for the past couple of years.

‘…memory organizes representations of the past into a structured sequence that produces a consciousness of an identity through time.’1

The visual and spoken cultural and social perspectives of South Korean artists living and working in Britain had not been investigated academically prior to my doctoral study. My intention was to address and analyse the burgeoning phenomena of Korean art practice in Britain between 2006 and 2008, occurring predominantly around the London region – near its colleges of Art and Design. The analysis was contextualised in terms of the social, institutional and creative impact that dislocation from one nation to another has had upon the artists’ approaches to and characteristics of their art production. As the nations of Britain and South Korea can be contrasted archetypically in terms of their locations of ‘West’ and ‘East,’ debates concerning Orientalism, hybridity and globalisation are interrogated. The thesis argued that polemics of Post Colonialism and Diaspora Studies are not particularly relevant for Korean migrant artists in Britain but that some of the same issues faced regarding the experience of relocating cultures are still present.

Francesca Cho - Gone but the Truth
Francesca Cho, Gone but the Truth (2009). Oil and mixed media on canvas

I conducted case studies of conversations carried with a diverse spread of Korean artists and Korean curators – such as Jay Im and Eunice Yu of I-MYU and Jiyoon Lee – who are working in Britain, most of which have had coverage on London Korean Links. Artists whom I interviewed regarding their artworks and the way the subject matter and style of them may or may not have changed since they migrated to Britain include: Francesca Cho (abstract painter), Seunghee Kang (emobroidered screens), Chosil Kil (installation), Jin Kim (painter), Sea Hyun Lee (painting), Bada Song (installation) and Jaeran Won (illustrator). Despite the broad differences in their art practice, the case study analysis and iconological visual analyses indicated that there were some reoccurring themes present which related to their migrancy. An example of one of the patterns in the kinds of subject matter addressed in relation to the artists’ transition from Korean to British lifestyles was the issue of Cultural Memory; some artists began to consider their nostalgia for Korea via their displacement from it. However, as well as finding patterns, the thesis presents a spectrum of individual approaches to creative practice which do not always conform neatly to themes of émigré identity in Britain or to associated issues of national identity.

Bada Song Chi-bung
Bada Song: Chi-bung (2007), mixed materials

The research is comprised of nine chapters: the first three work to introduce both the topic of contemporary Korean art and the rationale behind the following case studies; chapter four discusses the presence of Korean migrants in Britain in relation to eminent Diaspora Studies concepts, and the four central chapters consist of thematic case studies concerning Korean artists’ identity in relation to their practice, enlightened by analyses of the institutional spaces in which they have been presented. Throughout, the study takes the sociology of art stance that Korean art works in Britain are products as such that are continually being presented for interpretation in the public sphere and, often, as examples of specifically ‘Korean’ art. In presenting art works by artists from South Korea in Britain to the reader, the thesis aimed to demonstrate the multiformity of the visual creations by Korean artists, the practical impact of migration upon them and the necessity to also see beyond borders.

Seunghee Kang
Seunghee Kang (2006) ‘I've got a feeling we're not in wonderland anymore,’ mixed materials

The Phd was awarded at MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University in February 2010. A manuscript of the thesis can be ordered at The British library and future publications resulting from it are in progress. London Korean Links features both as a source of information and as a Korean/British concept in the thesis!

  1. Wood, Nancy, on Maurice Halbwachs, (1999) Vectors of Memory: Legacies of Trauma in Postwar Europe, Berg, Oxford, p 3. []

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