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The Korean Studies Seminar is an interdisciplinary forum that brings together scholars, artists, and professionals working on Korea-related subjects from a wide variety of disciplines: history, literature, art history, visual and media studies, architecture, religion, sociology, anthropology, music, and performance studies. The seminar discusses current research and issues in the study of Korea drawn from the dynamic intellectual community in and around New York City.

Jae Won Chung

Dong-Sei Kim

Jenny Wang Medina

Ye Lim Oh (fall)

Hetty Lee (spring)

Meeting Schedule

09/21/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
General Meeting

10/19/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
Jinwon Kim, City Tech, CUNY

11/16/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:00 PM
Dongwoo Yim, Hongik University; PRAUD, Seoul, Korea

02/22/2024 Metropolitan Museum of Art
5:30 PM
MET Lineages Exhibition Tour and Discussion
Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

03/28/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Zombie Avant-Gardes: Subterfuge as Radical Agency in Postwar South Korean Art
Sooran Choi, University of Vermont in Burlington


In my talk, I will overview my current book project, Zombie Avant-Gardes: Subterfuge as Radical Agency in Postwar South Korean Art, which narrates an interpretative and comparative history of the avant-garde in South Korea within a global context between 1961 and 1993, during the three decades of the country’s Cold War authoritarian military regimes. Specifically, my book charts the history of South Korean performance, conceptual, and multi-media art by closely examining various artistic, musical, and theatrical practices of the country’s major art collectives at the time. South Korea experienced censorship of art, culture, and media, human rights violations, and communist witch hunts, which often involved the violent suppression of any anti-governmental activities under Cold War ideology. These art collectives have been historically omitted from conventional South Korean art histories, and oftentimes their work was dismissed as derivatives of Western art, virtually unknown outside of South Korea. Furthermore, the records of its contemporary reception have been often censored by governmental agencies and mainstream art establishments of the time. By carefully rereading the primary and secondary sources on the subject along with the recontextualized rhetoric of the Western avant-garde in South Korea, this book offers a revisionist view of these activities, framing them instead as forms of radical dissent in disguise. Going against the grain, it argues that rather than being derivative and blindly copying the West, South Korean art collectives “strategically” appropriated and repurposed Western avant-garde concepts to mask their socio-political resistance and evade imprisonment and torture under repressive military regimes. The book contends that various strains of Western avant-garde art, due to their perceived exoticism, artistic aura, and association with Euro-American democratic First World culture/art, functioned as protection against censorship and persecution for the artists who took critical stances against the pro-American and anti-communist South Korean governments that strived for global economic, cultural, and artistic recognition in the Cold War postwar South Korea.

04/25/2024 CANCELLED
5:30 PM
The Enemy’s Property
Theodore Hughes, Columbia University


The end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea gave rise to a pressing question: Who would assume ownership of Japanese assets (state-owned and private), estimated to comprise 80-85% of the former colony’s wealth? Questions (and court cases) surrounding the distribution and possession of what became popularly known as chǒksan (enemy property) would, in fact, last for decades. This talk follows the property trail in South Korean literature published from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s. Focusing on work by Im Ogin and Ch’oe Chǒnghŭi, I show how chŏksan enters into implicit conversation with two other terms central to post-1945 property transfer, kongsan (communal property) and yŏksan (the property of communist sympathizers). A politics of suspicion enters the dispensation of enemy property, as colonial rule gives way to military occupation, national division, and war. For Im and Ch’oe, the question of colonial remains and their repurposing exceeds monetary value, involving a gendered ethics of postcolonial belonging that looks askance at the entrance of the peninsula into first- and second-world bifurcations.