This article critically examines the ambivalent representations of nationalism and/or regionalism embedded in early modern Korean art and its implicit and insidious connection to Japanese colonialism. Under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), Korean artists started to study and practice Western-style modern art. Using Japanized Western art, a mixture of European Academic art and Impressionist style, early modern Korean artists often portrayed motifs connected with Korean cultural legacy or regional characteristics (hyangtosaek), and suggested an idealistic and conservative notion of nationalism (minjokjuui). In this de-historicized space of modern art, an idealized Korean national identity seamlessly linked itself to a desire for modernization (gundaehwa) or a modernized future symbolized by Western art. In this way, colonial reality was completely absent from early modern Korean art. The idealized nationalism or regionalism disguised the one-directional flow of power from the colonizer to the colonized, and essentially paralleled the colonial government’s cultural policy.
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