SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Contemporary Korean Arts in East Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This new half unit course examines the development of Korean visual culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. Selected material of different media, including paintings, sculptures, textiles and ceramics, produced in North and South Korea as well as by the Korean diasporas will be discussed. The course will also include examinations of Korean film, as well as performance, installation and video art. The rise and significance of key artistic developments such as the Informel, Minjung and Monochrome art movements will be explored through works produced by influential artists working inside and outside Korea. We will question how Korean artists responded to different artistic influences, in particular European and Japanese ones, and attempt to situate contemporary Korean art within a global arts scene.

The course is offered in Term 2 only.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:
  • To critically analyse contemporary Korean works of art using appropriate vocabulary.
  • To examine a range of approaches to understanding contemporary works of art from Korea and to place them within the context of East Asian cultural and historical traditions.
Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills
  • Knowledge of the development of visual and material culture in Korea in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Knowledge of key themes in the study of contemporary Korean material culture.
  • The ability to recognise the reasons behind changes and continuations of local artistic traditions and the ability to assess and understand such developments within a wider East Asian context.
  • Knowledge of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of contemporary works of art.
    The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.

Scope and syllabus

In assessing contemporary art produced on the Korean peninsula as well as that by members of the Korean diasporas in Asia, Europe and the USA, we will place local productions of the arts within a wider set of questions pertinent not only to Korean circumstances but to Asian contemporary culture as a whole. In particularly we will address the development of a national aesthetic and the representation of local identities in material culture. Themes concerning modernity, nationalism, globalisation and gender issues will also be covered. The course will include several visits to collections of Korean art in London. 

Method of assessment

  • One in-class quiz - 20%
  • One 1,800-2,000 word essay - 30%
  • One two hour exam - 50%
  • One in-class quiz - 20%
  • One 2,000-2,250 word essay - 30%
  • One two hour exam - 50%

Suggested reading

  • Clark, John (ed.). Modernity in Asian art. Broadway, NSW: Wild Peony, 1993
  • Kim Youngna. Tradition, Modernity and Identity: Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. Seoul and New Jersey: Hollym, 2005.
  • Korean National Commission for UNESCO (ed.). Korean anthropology: contemporary Korean culture in flux. Elizabeth, NJ : Hollym, 2003.
  • Lee Hyangjin. Contemporary Korean cinema: identity, culture and politics. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2000.
  • Portal, Jane. Art under control in North Korea. London : Reaktion Books, 2005.
  • Poshyananda, Apinan et al. Contemporary art in Asia: traditions, tensions: India, Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand. New York : Asia Society Galleries, 1996.

Online course outline.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules