Enigmatic North Korea gives up its cultural secrets in a new book, Exploring North Korean Arts.
In June 2012, Asia Times Online journalist Michael Rank reviewed a book by renowned scholars of North Korean arts and culture. According to Rank, the publication offers original research and rare perspectives on the visual arts of an often inaccessible nation.
Click here to read the full article by Michael Rank on Asia Times Online, published on 16 June 2012.
First published September 2011, Exploring North Korean Arts is richly illustrated and delivers a comprehensive study of a broad range of visual arts in the region. The book provides both historical and contemporary context to art coming out of a nation suffering under, as Rank puts it, “…a suffocating, trinitarian personality cult and enveloping secrecy”.
The book examines a wide array of artistic output in the context of North Korean life, and looks at contemporary art, music and literature as well as more every-day items such as stamps. The book’s editor, Rudiger Frank, provides an overview of the contents and introduces the key debate of the text: How is it possible to discuss art in a country where “state-kitsch”, “a formulaic mode of art that imitates the style and composition of earlier artworks and cultural icons”, prevails?
Each of the book’s thirteen essays is composed by an expert in some facet of North Korean culture ranging from art to politics; combined they provide the reader with an in-depth analysis of creative expression in a military state. For example, Dr Koen de Ceuster of Leiden University, a frequent visitor to North Korea, gives the reader an idea of what it is like to be an artist in the country. Meanwhile, art historian Frank Hoffmann offers a rare account of objects destroyed or censored from art history altogether by the military regime.
Both this book and an international symposium of the same name (held at the University of Vienna, Austria from 3 to 4 September 2010) followed on from an exhibition entitled “Flowers for Kim Il Sung“, hosted by the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna from 19 May to 5 September 2010. Works never seen before outside of North Korea, 130 in total, demonstrated the first opportunity of its kind to “…examine the idealising art of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is hardly known at all,” Dr de Ceuster said.
Rank’s single criticism of Exploring North Korean Arts is that there is no mention of North Korean film; this, for him, is an unusual gap considering the high impact of film on culture. Nonetheless, he concludes that the book is “outstandingly well informed and original … essential reading for anyone interested in the arts in North Korea and their political and historical context.”
- London awash with Korean contemporary art in summer 2012 – July 2012 – wave of Korean contemporary art events in the United Kingdom
- Yeondoo Jung Prix Pictet prize photographs peer into Korean family homes – April 2012 – work by Yeondoo Jung part of “Growth 2011” travelling exhibition
- Emerging Korean artist Rim Lee exhibits new surrealist works in Chicago – March 2012 – young Korean artist Rim Lee’s first solo exhibition, “Retrospective”
- Can’t buy North Korean art outside DPRK? Mansudae branch in Beijing – Leap magazine – May 2011 – North Korean-run gallery makes a startling appearance in China
- North Korean life like Truman Show: Photography by Back Seung Woo – April 2011 – South Korean Back Seung Woo’s photographs offer glimpse into North Korea
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