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Transcultural Encounters between Asia and Africa: Experiencing ‘otherness’ through the arts in Seoul and Nairobi

posted on 2021-12-01, 23:06 authored by Kristina Dziedzic Wright
Development scholars and practitioners have comparatively studied South Korea and Kenya because they had the same GDP in the 1960s, but South Korea has since developed into one of the world’s top fifteen economies and was the first aid recipient in the OECD to become a donor nation. A significant portion of South Korea’s humanitarian aid budget is now devoted to Africa, and the Korean government’s strategy for African development focuses on advancing the arts and culture as a means of exerting ‘soft power.’ In addition to this bilateral aid from the government, Korean businesses are seeking new investment opportunities in many African countries, including Kenya. Korea is just one of the so-called ‘Asian Tiger’ economies that have mainly followed China’s lead to promote domestic economic growth in emerging markets. As Asian economic entanglements increase exponentially throughout Africa, new opportunities for cultural contact are arising. However, many Kenyans remain suspicious of what they perceive as neo-colonial endeavours on the part of Asian corporations and governments while the general South Korean population tends to have limited understandings of Africa that rely on largely negative stereotypes. Through comparative case studies in Seoul and Nairobi, this thesis examines how the arts can foster transcultural exchange between seemingly disparate groups of people as contact between Asia and Africa increases. Research methods include a combination of case studies, narrative enquiry and qualitative interviews with artists, curators, arts administrators and other cultural practitioners. Analysis of specific art exhibitions, a public festival and an institutional case study in each city demonstrate that the arts can construct and reflect converging national and global identities as well as be a means to negotiate and understand cultural differences. While analysis focuses specifically on South Korea and Kenya as microcosms, the issues identified in this study resonate with wider debates concerning the role of art museums relative to migration, globalisation and multiculturalism.



Simon Knell; Stacy Boldrick

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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