Lecture Series, “Paintings, Songs, and Board Games: Travels to Kŭmgangsan in Late Chosŏn Korea (1600-1900)” with Maya Stiller

On March 7th, 2019, GWIKS hosted a lecture series with Professor Maya Stiller, Assistant Professor of Korean Art and Visual Culture at the University of Kansas, on “Paintings, Songs, and Board Games: Travels to Kŭmgangsan in Late Chosŏn Korea (1600-1900)”. Moderated by Dr. Jisoo M. Kim, the Director of the GW Institute for Korean Studies, Dr. Stiller began by introducing facts about the field of Korean art history. She explained that the field of Korean art history is a relatively new field, compared to Japanese and Chinese art histories. As she introduced some of the overseas scholars who led the study in Korean art history, she noted that most of these scholars focused on painting. Another significant trend in not only Korea but Europe and the United States as well is a study in the 20th century and contemporary Korean art, particularly from the Colonial Era. By looking at a broad range of visual and material objects, Dr. Stiller’s current book project combines the study of visual and material objects with literary source materials and historical records and widens the scope of interdisciplinary research of Korean art history. She argued that Kŭmgangsan was a status pilgrimage site. From the 16th century onward, Late Chosŏn travelers traveled to Kŭmgangsan to garner social and cultural capital by visiting sites that famous scholars had previously visited. Travels to Kŭmgangsan were seen as an indicator of one’s elite status. Paintings, songs, and board games were methods for people who could not physically travel to Kŭmgangsan to virtually travel there and obtain cultural capital. Then Dr. Stiller proceeded to explain travel routes to Kŭmgangsan were so time-consuming and expensive that only a few people were able to afford it.

Dr. Stiller then presented the audience with photographs of Kŭmgangsan and explained the landscape and rock formations in detail. Late Chosŏn period Koreans used various methods -songs, paintings, and board games – to virtually travel to Kŭmgangsan in order to strengthen their social and cultural capital. After presenting examples of each method and interpreting them in detail, she concluded by enlightening the audience of how the perception of Kŭmgangsan changed in the 20th century and what the mountain means to the Korean people.


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