Transcending the Frontier: Aesthetic Encounters Between North and South Korea in the Twilight of the Cold War


Thursday, October 3, 2019, 4:30pm to 6:30pm


Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, MA 02138

Korea Colloquium
10.3 KC Poster

Douglas Gabriel
Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow, Korea Institute, Harvard University

Douglas Gabriel is the 2019–20 Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow at the Korea Institute, Harvard University. He received his PhD in Art History from Northwestern University in 2019. He is currently completing a manuscript that explores intersections between the art of the minjung democratization movement in South Korea and socialist realism in North Korea during the late Cold War period. In addition, he is also working on a book that investigates spectacles of youth culture in North Korea. His research has appeared in publications such as the Journal of Korean Studies and Hyŏndae misulsa yŏngu [The Korean Journal of Contemporary Art History].

Chaired by Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History; Director, Korea Institute, Harvard University

In the early 1990s, a pair of Korean reunification-themed art exhibitions staged in Japan took up the question of art’s capacity to contribute to national reconciliation, an issue that appeared more crucial than ever in light of the Soviet Union’s recent dissolution and the corresponding surge of rhetoric celebrating the end of the Cold War. The first of these events, which opened in 1992, brought together minjung, or “people’s,” artists from South Korea and artists with ties to North Korea living in Japan. The second exhibition, which took place the following year, featured North Korean artists along with minjung artists and Korean nationals based abroad. Throughout these events there emerged a deep anxiety over the idea that political propaganda might leak into the pure expressions of “Koreanness” that the organizers sought to construct through visual media.

While these exhibitions ultimately failed to congeal as demonstrations of absolute homogeneity across the contexts of the North and South, the works on view prompted audiences to question their assumptions of what an aesthetics of reunification would or should look like. As opposed to a celebratory spectacle of national harmony, as contemporaneous state-sponsored reunification events so often strove to project, the exhibitions in question suggested that engaging an aesthetics of reunification would entail vexatious encounters with modes of visuality forged from within an enduring Cold War impasse.


Generously supported by the Min Young-Chul Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute.