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DPRK Propoganda Art
This is some of the most difficult artwork in the world to buy, as most of it cannot be legally exported from North Korea--and it's not easy to get the legal artwork out, either.
To some, this artwork is viewed as a permanent reminder of what life was like--and still is like--behind the Iron Curtain of totalitarian communism that has been at loggerheads with the "Free World" for the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
To others, this artwork bears testament to a proud country that desperately wants to take charge of its own destiny without the plague of foreign interference that has infested the Korean peninsula since the Japanese occupation that began nearly one hundred years ago.
With its unique blend of Confucianism, Maoism and Stalinism, North Korea--which is officially recognised by the UN as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea--is the last bastion of Cold War Era communism that has little evolved since the 1950s. It is one of the least visited countries with only about 1,500 Western tourists a year.
Propaganda art has been used throughout history the world over to control the hearts, minds and actions of citizens. In North Korea, these never subtle, yet artistic, propaganda messages are as commonly displayed on billboards and murals throughout the country as advertising is in the industrialized world.
Many political observers in the West view the North Korean leadership's penchant for brinkmanship as destabilizing not only North-East Asia, but also the world. However, North Korean sympathizers argue that the country is protecting itself from Western corruption, particularly that from the U.S.
In the West, North Korea is seen as a serious military threat, with one of the world's largest standing armies, significant dug-in heavy artillery, and likely biological, chemical and possibly a few nuclear bombs, plus medium-range ballistic missiles. However, North Korea regards this build-up as taking a strong defensive stand, promoted as the "Army First" or "Songun" policy "to maintain independence or become the colonial slaves of imperialism."
Despite the significant sacrifice the allied countries made on the Korean peninsula against what was regarded as incursions of totalitarian communism, the Korean War in the West is just as often the "Forgotten War". By bearing witness to state-sanctioned propaganda art from a political system as far different from our liberal democracies as is possible, we can reflect upon the ideologies, political metaphors and myths disseminated by the Hermit Kingdom, while we ponder and question those broadcast from our own governments.
Many Western observers question how much longer this reclusive country will exist. We question how much longer will this powerful and aesthetically appealing artwork be produced. Note that authentic printed Chinese propaganda posters have recently been sold at action for thousands of dollars.
Insight into DPRK Propaganda & Social Realist Art
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the paintbrush is perhaps mightier.
Throughout the world, the propaganda poster has been used as a medium for communicating political and ideological direction to a country's population, to the extent of brainwashing that population into fidelity and blind obedience.
The North Korean style of propaganda is highly developed and as ubiquitously displayed in all public places as advertising is in our industrialized society.
The similarities between socialist propaganda art and capitalist style advertising are noteworthy; both attempt to create dreamers, both with their strategies for selling a lifestyle and a brighter future.
These propaganda posters are intended as short-lived pieces, each predominantly consisting of a slogan reinforced by a painted image that reveals the cultural, political and sociological ideals of the country. Even though the artistic input in making the propaganda poster is high, the finished piece is rarely seen as an art form, that is, a piece of work to be considered for its aesthetic; rather it is the use of art to extol the virtues of how to strive for or how to defend the construction of an ideal society.
Ideology aside, many artists and art critics find this art to be a fascinating and even a beautiful means of expression. These works immediately convey state-sanctioned messages and can invoke the strong emotions that conjure up pride, loyalty and even anger.
The Creation of North Korean Propaganda Art
The original artwork is commissioned from the various art studios in Pyongyang and there is also a specific university course and studio dedicated to "poster art". The artists are chosen or compete to portray the selected slogan and their aim is to enforce its message with strong visual language. The artwork is not signed though a record of the artist's name is kept.
The originals are painted in gouache normally on card or heavy grade paper. Depending on its intended, use the artwork is either copied by hand or put into print and distributed around the country where it is used in such institutions as schools, factories and offices, or re-painted on massive billboards in the city and countryside. Since 2000, a number of "Western style" advertising billboards have been erected along the streets in Pyongyang and are often backlit for impact in both the day and night. Usually hand painted propaganda pieces or computer-generated posters are displayed.
While it is possible to identify individual artists' work, the posters have almost no personal artistic expression or individual subtext. They are purely functional, aimed at getting across official ideas, values and norms. The realities of DPRK society cannot be read through propaganda art.
Deciphering North Korean Propaganda Art
Posters vary dramatically in their imagery depending on the content of the slogan; some posters are used to promote public health and social campaigns as well as to encourage people to behave like model citizens, while others are to inspire vigilance and to promote hatred of the "American aggressor". The human figures in these posters (workers, military and educationalists) are shown as young, fresh, robust and enthusiastic, verging on the superhuman.
The characters are painted to reveal such characteristic as youth and vigour, action (construction of a "strong country"), stature (often larger than life; an embodiment of perfection) and emotion (often resolve, pride, effort, joy, strength, determination or aggression). The figures therefore portray exemplary behaviour, they are there to inspire the workforce, show self-sacrifice, working for the greater good, devoted to the government, the Juche philosophy (the uniquely North Korean ruling ideology of self-reliance, where man is the master of his destiny), building a "strong country" and support for its "army first" doctrine.
Images put forth a desired reality. Female and male characters are often depicted as youthful superwomen and supermen, with large hands, muscular figures, faces that look like they are from one mould, but differentiated by poise and hair length, with perfect skin and teeth. The posters portray the three classes: the military, the worker intellectual and the laborer. The military are portrayed as sacred heroes, sacrificing themselves for the benefit of society, completely devoted to the cause of the Juche ideology.
These images provide youth with an identity as fighters for the socialist revolution, workers and intellectuals embody the collective spirit deriving joy not just from his/her own work but in his/her ability to participate in the collective effort under the wise guidance of the Party. All paintings are designed to reflect the un-hierarchical unity and single-minded heart of the people.
DPRK propaganda posters have developed their own style: sharp, block colours with two tones depicting light and shade with objects and figures outlined in a heavy black line. They are highly stylised, strident, graphic images. The figures do not confront the viewer rather they stare into a more perfect future. Colour symbolism is present: red is of course used as a colour to identify the sacred, the revolution, while black is often used to express evil. Of note is that the gaze of the figures is not directly at the viewer (as in many Russian and Chinese propaganda posters), the gaze into the far distance is an invitation to participate in a glorious future, in building and realizing the dreams of Kim Il Sung's utopia, the "People's Paradise".
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