This paper uses a feminist approach to the Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting)movement of the 1970s. Conceived as a “Korean modernism,” the Dansaekhwa movement was the artistic equivalent to the nationalism that was widespread in society at the time. A result of the intersection between traditional art and its philosophy and modern art with its theory, Dansaekhwa was regarded as art that was both “Korean” and “modern”,thereby becoming an appropriate symbol of the “new nationalism” that was needed in the 1970s. Dansaekhwa became a tool for identity politics in the third world, which oscillated between matching current international trends and manifesting its own national differences.
This is nothing other than “masculine politics”, with two aims: externally, it sets out to secure its position by going along with mainstream art movements, and internally it seeks to form another mainstream group through mutual identification. Masculine politics of this kind is revealed not only through the aesthetics of . Dansaekhwa, but also through its movement.
The Dansaekhwa movement is a process of preserving and expanding its paternal genealogy. Its context was created by the Korea–Japan relationship that developed around two male artists, Park, Seobo and Lee, Ufan. Their encounter in 1968 provided an opportunity for Lee’s theory of Mono-ha in Japan to influence Korean artists and to be expanded and applied as the theory of Dansaekhwa. After Park and Lee’s first monochrome painting exhibitions, which took place in Japan and Korea almost simultaneously in 1973, monochrome painting emerged in the Korean art field and positioned itself as an prominent trend of the 1970s, particularly following the exhibition titled Five Korean Artists Five Hinsek <White>(1975) and other exhibitions of Korean modern artists that were held in Japan. In this process, what arose from Korean modern art at the time was the common denominator of “white,” whose background can be traced to Yanagi, Muneyoshi (1889–1961) who, during the Japanese colonial period, discovered Korean aesthetics in white colored clothing and ceramic wares. Both Dansaekhwa movement and its aesthetics were largely constructed by Japan, or by recognition in Japan.
On the other hand, monochrome artists’ activities in Korea further consolidated the paternal genealogy of monochrome painting. In particular, Independent, an exhibition that began in 1972; the Seoul Contemporary Art Festival, which was founded that same year and mounted its inaugural show in 1975; and the Ecole de Seoul exhibition, which was founded in 1975, supported these artists’ activities. The head of these open art exhibitions was Park, who served in a top position at the Korean Fine Arts Association, and the main constituent of these exhibitions was their school connections with Hong-ik University.
The Dansaekhwa movement was not only founded by biological men, but was also propelled by masculine logic of power, i.e., assimilation and differentiation. Evidently, the exclusion of women and the feminine was a natural sequence. Out of the 24 artists who participated in the inaugural exhibition of Ecole de Seoul, only one artist was a woman;Jin Oksun is the only female artist who continued to be included in the show, and the proportion of women artists in Ecole de Seoul’s history did not exceed one-fifth of the participating artists. In the art world of the 1970s, the place allocated for women was limited to a small number of old masters or established artists who had already secured their positions, while a little attention was given to those artists in group Expression whose methods or styles express women’s “otherness”. During the active years of the Dansaekhwa movement, women were more visible in spaces of distribution rather than creation, settling for the role of helping the male artists that led the movement. In the process of selling and buying artwork that men created and priced, women contributed to men’s economic and artistic success.
In this way, women’s position in society at the time was reflected in the art world. This was due to the paternal geneology upon which the nationalism that propelled the 1970s was built, basically, excludes women. The exclusion of women, however, does not mean that they were absent or that they did not pursue or struggle for the dignity of their country.
A major task of feminism is to highlight this gender bias in the history of nationalism,and this paper is an attempt to do just that. Ultimately, this task entails the deconstruction of existing nationalism—not to deny nation and nationalism, but rather to redefine it as a concept encompassing “others” who has been marginalized. Such a task should include different ways in which to perform nationalism, and this is where the true meaning of feminism can be found. Beyond criticizing nationalism, the point at which feminism can intervene in debates about nationalism should be explored.