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Transmission and Performance: Memory, Heritage, and Authenticity in Korean Mask Dance Dramas


In this dissertation I explore the effects of the Republic of Korea's Cultural Property Protection Law (1962). Faced with decreased interest in traditional arts, many governments have instituted well-intentioned but unavoidably bureaucratic protection efforts; these policies can potentially turn once-vibrant and ever-evolving art forms into stale, taxidermized re-enactments. Although the Cultural Property Protection Law has been widely praised and even imitated, ethnographic research into arts transmission reveals complications. I conducted the research that informs this eleven-chapter dissertation between 2004 and 2011 including over three years of intense participant-observation. Methods included learning and performing half a dozen Korean arts, structured and open interviews and an examination of relevant documents. The dissertation utilizes the lenses of heritage, authenticity and memory to examine transmission of the Korean performing arts. In the dissertation I develop an understanding of transmission in the pedagogical and performance context for three Korean mask dance dramas: Songpa Sandae Noli, Bongsan Talchum and Goseong Ogwangdae. This understanding builds a comprehensive portrait of how heritage legislation impacts the transmission of performing arts knowledge. Through this dissertation I contribute to discussions of intangible heritage on three fronts: first, the impact of global and transnational cultural flows in Korea and on traditional culture; second, the ossification of traditional arts after preservation programs are established; and third, the way memory, heritage and authenticity are constructed, maintained and negotiated through the arts.

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