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Yongkeun Chun

MPhil work

Displayed Modernity: Advertising and Commercial Art in Colonial Korea

Th thesis explores advertising and commercial art in Korea under Japanese colonial rule. It investigates how styles and techniques of press advertisements and posters changed from the 1920s to the 1945. It also examines how the changes in the perceived modern print media reflect the social, political, cultural, and economic conditions of the colony. By shedding light onto an understudied period, the thesis seeks to reconstruct a historical continuity between contemporary graphic design practices and past visual culture, and suggests a more inclusive perception of Korean design history.

The thesis adopts transnational design history as a methodology. The approach is design historical in that it closely examines and analyses visual artefacts, and traces their production and dissemination within broader contexts of commerce, industry, media, and education. Advertising in colonial Korea was a complicated sphere where socio-economic conditions, colonial assimilation policies, national identities, and the profit motive of both Korean and Japanese companies were entangled. The thesis employs a transnational perspective to tackle these complexities, investigating a broad range of Korean and Japanese sources. Images are analysed as border-crossing entities, and their social and cultural significance is articulated on a more global contextual background, incorporating exchanges across Korea and Japan.

The five chapters of the thesis discuss: the promotion of advertising design as a Korean nationalist project under the impact of ‘cultural rule’ assimilation policies, the ‘advance’ and localised advertisements of Japanese products in the Korean market, the rise of modern consumerism and self-consciously modernist design styles, commercial art education and the professionalisation of the commercial artist, and commercial art as wartime propaganda in a colonial context.

By discussing these topics in relation to what I call ‘displayed modernity’, the thesis contributes to the discourse of colonial modernity and the history of Korea more generally. It also suggests transnational design history as an analytical framework for understanding cultural transmission within asymmetrical power relationships such as a colonial relationship, which may be relevant for historians of other regions and other periods. 


  • MPhil


    School of Arts & Humanities


    History of Design, 2015–2018

  • Yongkeun is a PhD candidate on the V&A/RCA History of Design programme. His research explores how commercial art and advertising design changed in Korea during the period of Japanese colonial rule, and what the printed images and their changes tell us about the experiences of colonial modernity. His research interests include the history of design in East Asia, studies of postcolonial theory and colonial modernity, and graphic design history. He holds a BA in Aesthetics and an MFA in Design History and Culture from Seoul National University.
  • Degrees

  • BA Aesthetics, Seoul National University, 2013; MFA Design History and Culture, Seoul National University, 2015
  • Awards

  • Strategic Research Grant, Design History Society, 2016; Graphic Culture Research Grant, DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2017
  • Conferences

  • ‘Korean Typographic Design in the 1920s and 1930s: Title Designs of <Sinsonyeon> Magazine’, Design History Workshop Japan, Dec 2013; ‘The Emergence and Establishment of Trademark Design in Korea’, ICDHS 2014 Aveiro, Jul 2014; ‘The Rise of Consumerism and the Localization of Trademark Design in Colonial Korea’, ICDHS 2016 Taipei, Oct 2016; ‘Education and Professionalisation of Commercial Art in 1930s Colonial Korea: The Tonga Ilbo Commercial Art Exhibition (1938-1939) as Displayed Colonial Modernity', ICDHS 2018 Barcelona, Oct 2018; ‘The Advance of the Imperial Brand: Market Expansion and Localised Advertising of Japanese Brands in Colonial Korea (c. 1920s-1930s)’, International History of East Asia Seminar, The University of Oxford China Centre, Nov 2018