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Gazing at native art with foreign eyes

Jan 09,2008
Benjamin Kaplan
Hanging around with the art crowd in Philadelphia, where he attended the University of Pennsylvania and later worked at an architecture and design firm, Korean-American adoptee Benjamin Kaplan found people “talked about a lot of artists from around the world, but no one talked about Korea.”
He came to Korea in March on a Fulbright grant. “When I got the grant, I thought I should do something about that,” he said. The Fulbright program of scholarships functions in 144 countries and counts multiple Nobel laureates among its alumni.
While here, he began the art Web site www.thenativegaze.com “to explore the contemporary art scene in Seoul, especially lesser-known, underground stuff.” The site is in both Korean and English, because “Korea has a huge Web community, but it is only accessible internationally if it’s in English.”
“It’s hard for young Korean artists to reach the right audience abroad,” he said.
Describing the concept of the site, Kaplan said, “One of the things I’m interested about in art is the difference between when a Korean person looks at a work of art done by a Korean artist, and when an American looks at the same work.”
His site has been met with enthusiasm both in Korea and in the world. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
“In Korea, they think it’s good that I’m doing it as a foreigner.”
Even so, for Kaplan underground art is no longer country-specific. “‘Thenativegaze’ is focused on Korea, but the culture and the art can be plugged into a global world,” he said.
By Richard Scott-Ashe


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