On a Level Playing Field: European Art and Diplomacy in Asia

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Florian Knothe, University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong


    As both a critical observer and a `consumer´ of international art and diplomacy in Hong Kong, I am interested in extending the work I have been doing with a dozen or so Western consulates by looking at their way to employ art in politics. Personally a scholar of art and propaganda in early modern Europe, I study the presence of European art and culture in Asia to analyze its value in an international, though largely foreign, 21st-century society. By adding to a limited focus on Europe itself, my paper explores how-very much by extension-some of the rich European cultures, such as France, are influential contributors to a local and ever-growing art and culture scene in East Asia, whereas others, including the UK and German-of equal standing back home-are conspicuously quiet and, so it seems, less eager to overwhelm with foreign culture and art in their particular diplomatic strategies. Along the more populous European nations represented in Asia, it is quite visible that often smaller neighbors, like Austria and Hungary, appear stronger and that they deliberately communicate their traditions and innovations-both past and future cultures – to place themselves in international societies like those in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Here, the participation of European countries is noteworthy when art and artists as diplomats have cross-cultural and lasting impact. Although they propagate, cultural attachés practice cultural diplomacy rather than propaganda, and they use their `soft diplomacies´ to win `hard favors´. With a changing global economy, a stronger presence of financially more prudent and economically weaker nations indicates how art on a more `level playing field´ here is used to help strike business deals, win political allies and, thankfully, encourage artistic and cultural exchange between unequal partners.