The Impossibility of the Modern for New Women in Colonial Korea:
Na Hyesuk's Idea of Freedom and Artistic Practice

Kim Eunshil ( Ewha Womans University )

  The purpose of this paper is to explore the meaning of freedom to Korea’s new women, through the arguments on freedom by the first so-called Western painter of Korea, Na Hyesuk. Na, a woman who became a painter through the education system of art school, was the first person to introduce the term ‘art’ to Korean society, and continually questioned her condition as a woman, asserting that it posed problems to her being human. In Korean society, Na has been viewed as having failed, for she could not overcome her limitations as a liberal bourgeois woman in the era of colonized Korea. To Na, the idea of freedom was based on the belief that “women are people, too,” and freedom meant practicing her personhood, which also meant doing art. But the more she tried to be a person, she drifted away from her father, brother and husband, ultimately falling into a social situation where she could not do art. Na’s life has been historized and narrated as an individual deviancy that could not be embraced in history, ending with an anonymous death out on the streets, or a typical case of self-indulgence leading to a tragic ending. This paper intends to gain an understanding of what the meaning of “new” in the new woman is, by contemplating the impossibility of the modern, or freedom itself, for the new woman of colonial Korea, Na Hyesuk.