[KS] Pre-1945 independence activist art?

Andrew Logie zatouichi at gmail.com
Sat Sep 7 07:05:47 EDT 2019

Dear Frank and all,

Thanks very kindly for this “brief” response. It contains plenty to go on, while confirming that there may not be very much surviving.

A question out of further ignorance, but have your interviews with the Yanbian artists been published in any form? 

Andrew Logie

> On 6 Sep 2019, at 10.08, Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreanstudies.com> wrote:
> Dear Andrew, dear All:
> Let be reply to your question ... but rather brief (super interesting 
> topic though, but just don't have the time now to dip in deeper).
> As for Korean artists in China, your art history student want to look 
> at Han Ryak-yŏn 韓樂然 (1898-1947), possibly also at Chŏng Ch’ang-p’a 
> and Chang Chin-gwang. Han Ryak-yŏn is an absolute super hero in exactly 
> that role you refer to. But he is -- you won't be surprised -- also 
> nicely used and abused by the various regimes and political groups in 
> China, North, and South Korea for whatever their own agendas are: 
> communism, romanticized heroism, and on and on.
> https://baike.baidu.com/item/韩乐然
> http://encykorea.aks.ac.kr/Contents/Item/E0073791
> Looking at these entries on Baidu and AKS you already get an idea of 
> how much or little weight Han Ryak-yŏn is being given in China and 
> South Korea. 
> Anyway, your student will find lots of literature and exhibition 
> catalogues about Han. Yet, that does not mean that he has been well 
> researched, I fear (would be a beautiful topic for a dissertation). Han 
> comes from a poor family, was already born in Yŏnbyon (Yanbian ... in 용
> 정촌, now 용정시), very early on joined the Chinese Communist Party, 
> just one or two years after it was inaugurated. He became then one of 
> the very first (ethnically) Korean students to study art in Europe, 
> went to France, studied and worked in Lyon, Nice, and Paris from 1929. 
> He also continued his political, anti-fascist engagement in France and 
> Italy. Coming back to China in, I believe 1937 (or early 1938?), he 
> continued his artistic and political work there. And yes, he is also 
> heavily engaged in anti-Japanese propaganda work, given Japan's war 
> with China. All of that, it seems (at least according to Chinese 
> secondary works) was embedded in the world of communist party 
> activities. He even gets close to Edgar Snow and especially Agnes 
> Smedley -- of course, not knowing that Smedley was Berlin's spy in New 
> York, Karl Haushofer's protege at Berlin U, and later Stalin's spy in 
> China. Anyway, his work is quite fascinating, and his political 
> engagement and his depictions of Chinese minorities fit perfectly into 
> official cultural state propaganda. After 1945 he became active into 
> the Silk Road Art & Archaeology Project and made himself an 
> internationally recognized name this way. He died in a plane crash in 
> the summer of 1947.
> Other than Han Ryak-yŏn, though, there is very little. And whatever 
> there is are mostly rough wood prints and mass-reproduced drawings (see 
> attached scan as an example). Please consider that "modern" 
> Western-style art was introduced very late to Korea, in the mid-1910s, 
> and that it was a very exclusive business, mostly for sons and a few 
> daughters of wealthy families (with just a few exceptions). Modernism 
> in itself was already revolutionary, but not in a socialist sense, of 
> course. Modern art as a means of direct, leftist political engagement 
> can mostly be confined to Käthe Kollwitz' influence in both China and 
> Japan. And that was again done in the media of drawing and print. The 
> 1980s Minjung art critics and activist-historians then _constructed_ a 
> direct line from the colonial period to the 1980s (we discussed the 
> several times before on this list, years ago). But there are just 
> really extremely few examples for that. Han Ryak-yŏn WOULD have been 
> good as such an example, just that South Korean Minjung artists did not 
> even knew his name in the 1980s. 
> All the other Chinese Korean artist (of modern, Western-style art) are 
> of a younger generation. The oldest one following Han Ryak-yŏn was Sŏk 
> Hŭi-man 石熙滿 (born 1914). Others are born in the early 1920s ... so 
> they just came of age in 1945. There simply are no others. And Sŏk 
> Hŭi-man, as far as I recall, didn't produce any political works (only 
> later, in the PRC, the usual folkloristic "one country, many peoples" 
> propaganda).
> In the mid-1990s I did intense interviews with 16 or 17 Korean artists 
> in Yŏnbyŏn. I had met some in 1985 and 1986 already, but the interviews 
> were done ten years later. Some of these were from that 2nd 
> generations, born in the 1920s. One thing that became completely clear 
> to me was how heavily obscured Chinese (and South Korean) publications 
> were in the depiction of such artists. With one painter, I read about 
> his anti-Japanese, communist engagement in some magazine article, and 
> then that same guy sits right in front of me, my father's age, tells me 
> for two three hours what I already read, but then shows me his family 
> album, where he happily waves under Japanese and Manchukuo flags, or in 
> some photomontage with kamikaze airplanes circling over his head. Well! 
> Where have I seen that before? -- too close to home. The same painter 
> had learned painting from a Japanese war propaganda painter, one of 
> those who stayed on in Manchuria after Manchukuo had become history, 
> one who had been converted from a Tenno soldier to a real communist. 
> The mentioned painter then used his craft as a People's Army propaganda 
> painter during the Korean war ... and afterwards also, of course. A few 
> years ago Koen De Ceuster was so very kind to buy me the autobiography 
> of that painter, which has in the meantime been published in Jilin. Not 
> a single word in there about his Japanese teacher.
> Okay -- that just as a side story.
> As for Korean artists in Russia: I am not aware that there was anyone 
> of the first generation of Western-style painters. I'd think that the 
> South Korean press would have picked up on that, in case there was 
> anyone. You mention Pyŏn Wŏn-nyŏng 변월룡 (Пен Варлен, 
> 1916-1990), who spent a few years in North Korea. You may have read the 
> 2004 book edited by Mun Yŏng-dae and Kim Kyŏng-hŭi that has excerpts of 
> his communications with North Korean artists after he then returned to 
> the USSR -- very interesting! That book, and other publications -- e.g. 
> _Korean Diaspora Artists in Asia_ (2009), and other publications that 
> usually focus on Pyŏn, have passages that _indicate_ that there was 
> some anti-Japanese political art done by Koreans in the USSR. But I 
> have never seen even a single example of that! And the language bring 
> that up as a subject, e.g. in the last mentioned publication, is 
> usually very bloomy and never concrete: who, where, when, what? ... 
> Soviet art was from the 1930s highly regulated and stream-lined. I can 
> hardly imagine that this was done, inn spite of the rivalry over 
> Manchuria. Just would not be what Soviet art produced in these years. 
> Maybe someone else has some input here and correct me there?
> 1938 example by Han Ryak-yŏn (see attachment).
> <By-한락연-1938.jpg>
> Best,
> Frank
>> On Thu, 5 Sep 2019 16:18:40 +0300, Andrew Logie wrote:
>> Dear art historians,
>> I had a question from an art-historian student asking about art 
>> produced in the context of the anti-Japanese resistance and 
>> Manchuria-based guerilla movements. Off the top of my head, I couldn’
>> t think of very much. What comes most immediately to mind is 
>> retrospectively produced minjung-type art of the 1980s. Presumably 
>> there must have been a few early painters, perhaps trained in Tokyo, 
>> or Germany, who alligned themselves with the resistance and perhaps 
>> ended up in Manchuria or beyond. And I’m guessing there would have 
>> been some Soviet trained Korean artists, too.
>> The only Soviet-Korean artist I know of is Pen Varlen 변월룡 
>> (1916-1990), who moved to DPRK after the Korean War, however, the 
>> couple of examples I’ve seen of his work - “Girl in Red chŏgori” 
>> (1954), and etching “송정리” (1958) exhibited last year at 
>> Deoksugung Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art - are already from 
>> the 1950s and are not directly referencing the anti-Japanese 
>> resistance movement (though they’re very nice pictures).
>> Any thoughts or leads would be of interest.
>> sincerely
>> Andrew Logie 
> _______________________________
> Frank Hoffmann
> http://koreanstudies.com

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