North Korean Art

At a joint Conference of the International Convention of Asia Scholars and the Association of Asian Studies in Honolulu, Hawai’i (March 31-April 3 2011),  I attended a well organized and researched panel (session 600) titled “Picturing National Narratives of North Korea”. From a talk by Professor Koen De Ceuster of Leiden University, I composed this list of websites for North Korean art, which should be of use to members of the Lafayette course “Interconnections in Northeast Asia.” If you see this list and take it as an endorsement of the government of North Korea, please keep surfing and send your comments to someone else, thanks.

Mansudae Art Studio (North Korea)

Nord Korean Hidden Treasures Revealed (Lithuania)

Fine Art from DPR Korea (London)

Koryo Studio (Beijing)

Pyongyang (Commercial)

Gallery Pyongyang (Germany)

Some issues raised during the panel:

North Korean art is not studied or collected in the same way that art by South Koreans, or from most other parts of the world, might be. It is clearly branded “North Korean” instead of by individual artist. Access issues, politics, and the expectations of viewers/collectors have resulted in an international exhibition complex that is marked by a lack of clearly defined collection criteria–i.e., collections in even the best museums are built opportunistically and have a patchy quality about them.

The emphasis on North Korean art as Propaganda or as socialist-realist kitsch has obscured the fact that North Korea does have artists who are not only highly skilled, but who delight in their craft. In North Korea, the craft entails celebrations of the regime and its history, but at the same time portraiture, landscapes and other genres give rein to other artistic intentions. And it is the view of the art from the artists’ perspective that is missing in international scholarship and exhibitions about North Korean art. It may well be that the sharp distinction many make between propaganda and art is not made at all by these artists, and thus may not be the best optic through which to view such art.  In sum, the state of scholarly knowledge regarding North Korean art is still rudimentary, largely for political reasons beyond the control of curators, scholars and collectors, but also for ideological reasons having to do with what outsiders “need” from North Korea to shore up their own notions of normalcy, freedom, and individualism (this last point shades into my own gloss on the panel: please don’t hold panelists listed in the link responsible for this statement).

A short discussion and slide show with Nick Bonner, and highly regarded (by scholars) art collector, author and exhibitor.

Interconnections in Northeast Asia

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