Archive for the ‘Mansudae creative Company (art studio)’ Category

Art in the DPRK

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

The Art Newspaper  published an interesting piece on how artists are trained and art is produced in the DPRK.

On artistic training:

All DPRK artists are members of state-run studio complexes where the art is actually created, and every artist has a formal ranking. These start at level C, move up through B and A, followed by “Merited Artists”, then “People’s Artist”. There are around 50 “Merited Artists” still working today and perhaps 20 “People’s Artists”, the best known being Son U Yong, Kim Chun Jon, Jong Chang Mo, Li Chang and Li Gyong Nam. Almost all artists working in oil and brush-and-ink are men but there are exceptions—for example Kim Song Hui, well known for her brush-and-ink work, is also a People’s Artist. There is also the Kim Il Sung Prize but artists normally have to be at least over 50 to receive this highest accolade, the most famous recipient being Jong Yong Man.

The top art institute is the Pyongyang University of Fine Art with various sections: brush-and-ink, oil, sculpture, ceramics, mural painting and industrial arts. Young artists are selected from around the country and if they are judged sufficiently skilled they will study here. Pyongyang University requires a minimum of five years study: at the moment there are 7-10 students studying oil painting and around 20 studying Korean brush-and-ink painting. In total there are around 150 students a year in the fine art department. Students enjoy class outings to local factories and much time is devoted to object and life drawing although not with nude models but, for example, girls in swimming costumes.

After finishing university the students are selected by various art studios—the Paekho or Central Art Studio, the Songhwa established in 1997 for retired artists, and the most active studio-compound, the Mansudae in Pyongyang.

On artistic style:

The art itself looks like classic Social Realist propaganda, that Beaux Arts technical tradition received through Russia, maintained by the Soviet Union and now, with the transformation of China, only being practised in North Korea, unchanged for more than 50 years. Abstract painting does not exist as it is deemed bourgeois and anti-revolutionary, and if some representational art can be purely aesthetic without political overtones, many landscapes do portray places of the revolution or of political significance.

Obedience to the ideology and excellence in its clear communication to others are what matter rather than any individual glory. This ensures an anonymity to much DPRK production that only its cognoscenti can penetrate. Experts can not only assign an artist’s name to a work, they can also determine whether it is an “original” or one of endless “copies” of an image.

Ever since the founding of the state in 1948, certain themes have maintained their place in the officially approved iconography of the “Fatherland” and it is hard to establish which artist first produced a specific image and when. These same images can be reproduced countless times over the decades. Thus much detective work is required to trace the origin of an image, the only real source being the annual “Yearbook” cataloguing official production.

As [Nick] Bonner explains: “The skill level is very high in academic drawing and painting, but the production is massive and it’s hard to find ‘pure’ pieces, you have to know the provenance or where things were first found.” Indeed, even the museums display copies, ostensibly to “preserve” the quality of the originals kept in storage.

More information on the Mansudae Art Company:

Here visitors, especially foreign tourists, are welcome to see the artists working in their small studios, watch the instructional video on the operation of the company, and buy some work from the large gift shop. Prices at the very top end for a “People’s Artist” can reach as high as €15,000, the favoured currency for all foreign transactions.

Woodblocks are a North Korean speciality, though nowadays they have been almost entirely replaced by lino prints with an attractive rich ink finish. The first ever exhibition of such prints in the United States, loaned from Bonner’s collection, opened last year at New York’s Korea Society, which is currently touring through the country. Initial editions are often very small, less than ten, but if the image proves popular the lino is either re-cut by the same artist or by a “copy” artist and signed by him.

At Mansudae there are also small-scale ceramic sculptures available, naturally of a propagandist nature, as well as more classical ceramics. There is even a startlingly realistic sculpture, reminiscent of Duane Hanson, of North Korea’s most famous ceramicist Uchi Soun (1919-2003) and examples of his widely-exhibited work for as much as €10,000 a pot. There are also striking large-scale figurative watercolours on paper and the highest-quality work, local ink paintings called “Chosonhwa”, some of which will be “thematic art” on revolutionary themes, as each artist will produce at least one a year for the state to show his support for the country. Mansudae employs some 150 of these ink-artists, compared with perhaps 60 oil painters. With some 1,000 members Mansudae produces at least 4,000 top level original works a year, though it also has a factory-style section producing copies for western hotels. Employees, who work a five day eight-hour week, are paid, dependent on level, at a similar rate to the national average, €35 a month for a worker and €70 for a technician.

More information on art in the DPRK: 

1. The Paekho Art Studio has partnered with Felix Abt to sell their art internationally.  Their web page is here.   The Mansudae Art Studio also launched a web page (click here).

2. Nick Bonner has a huge collection of North Korean art.  I have seen quite a bit of it, and it is impressive.  He also sells North Korean art through the Pyongyang Art Studio.

3. There are a couple of books on North Korean Art.  They are very different: North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection and Art Under Control in North Korea.

4. (h/t Werner) The Mansudae Overseas Development Group, which has been building monuments and buildings across the developing world (mostly in Africa) is part of the Mansudae Art Studio.  

Read more below:
Inside the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea
The Art newspaper
Adrian Dannatt


Monday, January 12th, 2009

Felix Abt, who runs the Pyongyang-based PyongSu Pharmaceutical Company, has launched a company to market North Korean art. 

From the Pyongyang Painters website:

Pyongyang Painters has the privilege to be one of the very few on-line galleries outside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) permitted to sell art and to represent leading artists as well as new talents from this very special country. But unlike others, it is exclusively specializing on North Korean fine arts and will, over time, introduce you to the largest and most representative collection of artworks. Special attention will be given to female artists as well as promising younger talents. Buying with, you contribute to the development of art and artists in North Korea.

The initiators of this website are Felix Abt and his wife Huong who have been living in Pyongyang for many years and who have had the opportunity to get acquainted not only with the country’s institutions involved in fine arts but also with numerous artists across the country. A close partner in Pyongyang is the Paekho Arts Trading Company which is less famous than the Mansudae Arts Studio. But it is at least as dynamic and it enjoys fast growth thanks to its impressive pool of artistic talents.

We are also pleased to announce that Christine Cibert, an experienced French Art Curator & Cultural Events Coordinator & Free-lance Writer is an advisor and consultant to and to its clients. Christine has lived and worked in North Korea for several years and gave birth to a son in Pyongyang. Her expertise in North Korean fine arts and paintings is outstanding and we are glad that our clients can resort to her competent advice, in particular when it comes to special requests beyond the paintings shown on this website.

Since there is little exposure to the outside world the North Korean form of art is considered very pure. North Korean artists are loyal to their country and, like any other citizens, adhere to the country’s political philosophy. In the absence of influences by contemporary art trends from the rest of the world the painters have, in a unique manner, developed their own techniques and the use of colors in an original style.

The paintings exhibited include, among other things, a variety of beautiful sceneries of nature and of North Korean daily life. These pieces of artwork will give you a rare insight into the lives and thoughts of the people of this country.


North Korea Google Earth (Version 7)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered v.7
Download it here

koreaisland.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


Google Earth North Korea (version 6)

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered: Version 6
Download it here

kissquare.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the newest version of North Korea Uncovered include: Alleged Syrian nuclear site (before and after bombing), Majon beach resort, electricity grid expansion, Runga Island in Pyongyang, Mt. Ryongak, Yongbyon historical fort walls, Suyang Fort walls and waterfall in Haeju, Kaechon-Lake Taesong water project, Paekma-Cholsan waterway, Yachts (3), and Hyesan Youth Copper Mine.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


Trendy London welcomes North Korean art

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Asia Times
Michael Rank

Above the chic shops and arcades of London’s Pall Mall, the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea wafts incongruously in the wind. Look inside, and portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader stare out at you.

No, the North Korean army hasn’t marched across the River Thames, but Pyongyang has established a small cultural enclave in London’s West End in the form of the first major exhibition of North Korean art in the Western world.

Curator David Heather says he first got the idea after meeting a North Korean painter at an art exhibition in Zimbabwe in 2001. “I got chatting with Mr Pak and he invited me to Pyongyang,” said Heather, making it all sound surprisingly straightforward. But the 45-year-old financier admits that mounting the exhibition was “quite a challenge … very time-consuming” and also admits that he has no great knowledge of art or the international art market.

He describes the surprisingly extensive exhibition of about 70 artworks as “an opportunity for people to see art from what is a secretive and protective society at first hand”.

The show ranges from apolitical landscapes and ceramics to a vast, blatantly propagandistic battle scene celebrating the routing of the US Army in the Korean War, as well as hand-painted posters on such unexpectedly diverse themes as “international hero” Che Guevara and “say no to sexual slavery in the 21st century”. This is a clear reference to Korean and Chinese “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Heather brought over three of the artists to London for the opening of the exhibition, including Pak Hyo-song, whom he had met in Zimbabwe and who has two dramatic – if highly un-North Korean – wildlife paintings of zebras and lions on show.

Pak spent five years in Zimbabwe as representative of the Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s leading group of official artists, whose activities include designing monuments and propaganda posters on behalf of foreign, mainly African, governments.

Pak’s dramatic if not entirely lifelike oil paintings seem to have been influenced by the well-known British African wildlife artist David Shepherd, and sure enough, the 47-year-old “Merited Artist” told Asia Times Online at the opening party that he was a great fan of Shepherd.

He is undoubtedly the only North Korean artist to have had a one-man show in Europe, after Heather mounted an exhibition of 15 of his paintings in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2005.

The London opening featured a remarkable mix of people. It was was a rare chance for the three North Korean artists and normally elusive members of the North Korean Embassy in London to mix socially with South Korean diplomats, art collectors and business people as well as with British Foreign Office officials, members of Britain’s tiny pro-Pyongyang New Communist Party, and at least one aging Moonie.

Heather said he had hopes of bringing the show to Paris, Berlin and even New York, and that only a few days after the opening he had already sold 50 posters at 250-300 pounds sterling (US$500-600) each, as well as two large paintings priced at several thousand pounds.

The sum of 300 pounds may sound like a lot for a none too subtle North Korean poster by an anonymous artist, but propaganda art is highly fashionable nowadays, with Chinese posters from the 1960s and 1970s fetching hundreds of dollars in London and New York. Given that the North Korean posters are hand-painted while the Chinese pictures are mass-produced prints that originally cost a few cents, the North Korean versions may turn out to be rather smart investments.

Heather said he had “no idea” how much he had invested in the exhibition, including renting a gallery on one of London’s most expensive streets for six weeks. “I don’t do it to make or lose money,” he said, but he clearly takes pride in being “a good negotiator”.

He said the North Koreans are “very direct and straightforward” and that “they are very open to ideas”. He has visited Pyongyang just once, in 2004, and conducted most of his negotiations in Beijing. Heather said he had bought 150 artworks, which he would show in rotation. Pricing the pictures was difficult, as this was the first time North Korean works of art were being sold in the capitalist West, he noted. “It opens up a new market which wasn’t there before.”

The biggest and most expensive picture in the exhibition is called Army Song of Victory and is priced at 28,000 pounds. A collective work by seven artists, it shows a Korean People’s Army brass band celebrating as US troops flee in the Battle of Rakdong River in 1950. A spokeswoman said the gallery was considering an offer of 21,000 pounds on the opening night.

Heather said he had received “a lot of help” from the North Korean Embassy and the British Foreign Office, and quiet encouragement also from the South Korean Embassy, which was anxious to see what North Korean art was all about. He has taken the North Korean artists to the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum and the historic city of Bath – despite the floods covering much of western England – and invited them to his home for a traditional British dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Heather has clearly formed an excellent rapport with the North Korean Embassy, and has even played golf with one of its diplomats on a course near London. “He’s sort of average like me. He has played on the Pyongyang golf course; it’s mainly for the elite,” Heather explained.

But holding an art exhibition is just the beginning, and Heather is now hoping to bring a 150-member North Korean orchestra over to London next year. “I’m hoping they will play in the Royal Albert Hall or Royal Festival Hall,” he said, referring to London’s two biggest concert halls.

This may not be quite as far-fetched as it sounds. Heather is working on the orchestra project with British soprano Suzannah Clarke, who has given several concerts in Pyongyang and is one of North Korea’s few foreign celebrities. Her rendition of “Danny Boy” is said to be especially popular with North Korean audiences. Given her fame and his business prowess, it’s an unlikely plan that just could come off.

Artists, Arts and Culture of North Korea runs at La Galleria, 5b Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4UY, until September 2.


In the Name of the Father

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

In July 1997, the five most important government agencies of North Korea published a joint declaration which informed the North Korea populace and the entire world that the country was introducing a new calendar. The year 1912 became the First Year of Chuche. The reason? This was the year Kim Il-sung was born.

The decision allowed the occasional use of the Christian-era years, but these four-digit numbers would accompany the new official chronological designation only when deemed necessary. Thus 2006 AD is the Year 95 of the Chuche Era. In other words, Kim Il-sung’s birthday replaced that of Christ in the official North Korean calendar.

The world has seen other attempts to break with old calendar traditions. In France of the 1790s, the revolutionaries began to count years from the proclamation of the French Republic. In South Korea of the 1950s, the government tried to implement the so-called ‘Tangun Era.’ None of these attempts succeeded for more than a few decades.

However, the decision to introduce the Chuche Era was just one of the many manifestations of Kim Il-sung’s posthumous “personality cult.”

Indeed, the memory of the North Korea’s founding father is treated in Pyongyang with the utmost respect. Obviously, this was the intention of the dead founder when he chose to transform his country into the first communist monarchy in world history.

He saw what had happened to Stalin and Mao’s posthumous reputations, and arranged the transition of power within his family, so the new leaders have a vested interest in keeping the old man’s memory intact.

First of all, Kim Il-sung is to remain the country’s only president.

After his death, the President’s office was left vacant _ and is meant to remain vacant forever. Kim Il-sung is North Korea’s “eternal president” while Kim Jong-il runs the country not as president, but merely as “chairman of the national defense committee.”

Kim Il-sung’s body has been embalmed and left on public display in a special glass-covered coffin. Actually, in this regard they follow an established _ if bizarre _ communist tradition. Lenin’s body was treated in such a way in 1924 (against his own clearly expressed will), and since then many other communist leaders have had their bodies left on public display _ also often against their will.

However, the sheer size of the North Korean mausoleum is impressive. In other Communist countries, bodies of the dead leaders were held in specially constructed and relatively small _ if impressive _ buildings.

The North decided to transform the entire Presidential Palace into the mausoleum and major center of Kim Ilsung’s posthumous cult.

The construction of Kmsusan Palace began in 1974, and in 1977 it was presented to Kim Il-sung as a present for his 65th birthday. In Kim’s lifetime, the imposing building, with floor area of 35,000 square meters, was strictly off-limits to the public, but in recent years it has become the center of a government- sponsored pilgrimage.

Of course, portraits of Kim Il sung are everywhere, albeit often accompanied by images of Kim Jong-il and his mother Kim Jong-suk. From the late 1960s, the North Korean bureaucracy has developed intricate rules to determine where and how Kim Il-sung’s likeness would be displayed. I’ll probably say more about these rules later, but now it suffices to say that every living room, office, and entrance to every official building, as well as every railway carriage, has been adorned with the portrait of the leader from the 1970s.

After 1980, the portrait of his son has complemented that of the father.

The currently approved portrait of Kim Il-sung is officially known as the ‘sun image’ (taeyangsang in Korean). Here the Great Leader is depicted as smiling kindly at his subjects, and he is dressed in the Western suit and necktie that he actually preferred in the last years of his life (prior to 1984 Kim had worn a Mao suit).

These portraits are mass-produced by the ‘Mansudae Creative Group,’ a special workshop whose sole purpose is to design and manufacture portraits and statues of the Great Leaders.

An important part of Kim Ilsung’s posthumous glorification is the numerous “Yongsaengtap,” or “Towers of Eternal Life.” Their name reflects the official slogan: “Kim Il-sung will live with us forever!” These towers have a shape, slightly reminiscent of ancient Egypt’s obelisks, and they are decorated with slogans on Kim’s alleged “eternal presence” in his realm.

As of 1997, there were 3,150 “Towers of Eternal Life” nationwide. They are normally erected at crossroads, and every major town is required to have one. Most of these structures are relatively cheap and easy to build, but some of them are quite elaborate and expensive.

The tallest of all towers is, of course, located in Pyongyang. It has a height of 92.5 meters _ just a bit lower than the Chuche Tower, one of the city’s major architectural monuments.

However, Kim Il-sung’s cult is now giving way to the cult of his son, who has successfully become the new supreme ruler of the country.


The Cost of Adoration

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

“North Korea’s Idolization – 40% of National Budget”
Enshrining Kim Il Song’s body at Kumsu Mountain Mausoleum – $890m

[edited-I shortened it a bit and corrected the author’s cinfusion of Kim Jong Il with Kim il Sung]

As Kim Jong Il made his appearance on the scene as successor in the 70’s, within 10 years the entire nation was covered with statues, and even today construction has not stopped.

Recently, historical monuments to Kim Jong Il’s great deeds have been constructed. at Jakangdo Weewon Electric Power Plant, North Pyongan Province Changsong County, Yupyong; South Hamkyong Province Yonpo; North Pyongan Province, Hyangsan County, Sangso-ri; and Yomju County Yongbok-ri, Bakchon County, Dansan-ri.

At recently constructed monuments, mosaics of Kim Chong Sok (Kim Jong Il’s birth mother) made of colored glass, tiles, and natural stone are prevalent.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is not wasting money worthlessly by creating this idolization propaganda. The reason that the construction of these monuments has not stopped, even during a period of economic crisis, is because his intention is to use the vulnerabilities of citizens and young people to induce a spirit of sacrifice as they gaze on the Great Leader and the General (Kim Jong Il)

Of course, although among adults there are not many who like Kim Jong Il, he is the leader of the country and is still going strong, the intention is to arm the youth with a way of thinking that tells them it is wrong to betray the General.

140,000 Idolization Propaganda Items

The most representative of all of the idolization propaganda is [Kimil sungs] resting place at the Gumsusan Masoleum.

In addition to the Masoleum, if you include the entire collection of each type of Kim il Sung idolization statues, Revolutionary Spirit Institutes, Historical Places, Battlefields, On-the-Spot Guidance Memorials, Eternal Towers, Slogan Boards and Engraved Slogans, and (the Kim) family’s idolization propaganda materials, the figure reaches about 140,000.

There are about 70 statues of [Kim il Sung] nationwide, erected on the hill at Mansudae and at each Province location. While there are [Kim il Sung] statues in the gardens of each National Security Agency building, there are Kim Father and Son plaster figures at each of the Research Institutes.

Nationwide, there are 200 Kim Father and Son Research Institutes; one large scale facility in each city and county, one each at national government and cabinet level agencies, and one at each of the city and county offices subordinate to the People’s Safety Agency, Regional Public Security Office, and the National Security Agency have been constructed. The size, furnishings, and maintenance of these institutes are better than that found in museums in the South.

Additionally, although small in size, Kim Father and Son Research Institutes can be found at each village and labor district. As there are about 30 villages and labor districts in each city-county, nationwide there are about 6,000 (200 X 30 = 6,000) of these institutes. The condition and furnishings of these buildings are the best in North Korea.

In the villages or labor districts, one of these institutes can be found at each subordinate farm, large operational team, 2nd Class and higher agricultural enterprises, and at each North Korean Army battalion and larger size unit. Taking these into account, nationwide there appear to be tens of thousands of these Kim Father and Son Institutes.

In the countryside, one can find representative idolization and propaganda figures nationwide in the construction of Eternal Towers and Jongil Peaks at Kumgang Mountain, Myohyang Mountain, etc., and slogans idolizing Kim Father and Son can be found on natural rocks.

The Eternal Tower found at the center of every province, city, county, and labor district nationwide, is commonly referred to as the “Longevity Tower.” The tower was inscribed with “We respectfully wish for our Great Leader’s longevity,” however, after Kim Il Song’s death in July of 1994, the inscription was changed to “”The Great Leader is with us forever.”

During 1996-1997, when millions starved to death, the citizens complained loudly about the importation of granite and special cement from overseas for use in the construction of these towers.

Constructing Idols with Special Materials Imported from Overseas

The statues and gypsum figures found at the Kim Father and Son Institutes, as well as other art forms are created and maintained by Art Creation Companies located in each of the Provinces, including the Mansu Dae Creative Company, and the April 15 Cultural Creative Team.

Within the Mansu Dae Creative Company is separated by categories consisting of the Arts and Crafts Creative Team, the Business Art Creative Team, the Engraving Art Creative Team, the Cinema Creative Team, the Statue and Gypsum Creative Team, and the Chosun Paintings Creative Team, and specializes in creating symbols used to idolize Kim Father and Son.

Creations in the image of Kim Father and Son are made by Creative Branch Number 1. No one other than those assigned to Creative Team Number 1 can manufacture this type of art. Those assigned to this team have received special certification that allows them to draw the images of Kim Father and Son, only after having passed a political test and receiving certification from the Party, and certification of their skill.

While there are about 500 people working in the Mansu Dae Creative Company, the Art Creation Companies in each of the Provinces have about 30 in residence propaganda agitators in each of the cities and counties. The Special Finance Branch of the central government provides unlimited funding to cover the costs required to manufacture these items, and provides appropriations for purchasing high quality goods from overseas.

Covering tens of thousands of square meters in the Baekdu Mountain area, there are Grand Monuments at Bochonbo, Samjiyon, and the Hwangjae Mountain area where several thousand people manage idolization propaganda materials.

If Kim Father and Son have been to any of the Historical Revolutionary sites or battlefield sites, a museum is constructed there. For example, if Kim Father or Son has visited a farmhouse, persons at the farmhouse are no longer permitted to enter it, and personal effects are thereafter protected and managed by experts.

When Labor Party propaganda workers come up with a new competitive idolization idea, it is a happening that calls for a humorless presentation. When visiting Songjin Steelworks, Kim Il Sung used his hand to gauge the thickness of a steel plate and the very next day this several ton piece of steel was taken to the museum and placed on display. In this way, the competition among flatterers to display their loyalty has become a reason for the sharp increase in idolization propaganda.

Damaging Nature with Carved Slogans

At spots of beauty like Baekdu Mountain and Mohyang Mountain, etc., there are colossal carved slogans on the mountainsides.

▲ At Sobaeksu Valley, the professed hometown of Kim Jong Il, the six granite letters of the “Jong Il Peak” slogan placed on the mountain at Changsu Peak weighs 60 tons each and were put in place by helicopter.

▲ At Hyangno Peak on Mount Gumgang, the letters in the mountainside slogan “Chosun’s Famous Gumgang Mountain Is The World’s Famous Mountain. Kim Il Sung – September 27, 1947,” are 20 meters high, 16 meters wide with stokes of each character 3 meters, and a depth of 1 meter.

▲ On the rock at Mohyang Mountain’s Yusan Waterfall, the letters in the slogan “The Comrade Great Leader Kim Il Sung Is With Us Forever – July 8, 1994,” are 3 meters high, 2.3 meters wide and the letters “Kim Il Sung” are 3.2 meters by 2.5 meters.

▲ The letters at Gumgang Mountain Manpokdong and Bopguidong waterfalls reflecting “The Great Leader Kim Il Sung Is With Us Forever – July 8, 1994,” are 8 meters high and 5 meters wide.

▲ The engraved letters at Gumgang Mountain’s Waegum River Guryong Waterfall that reads “Chosun! Let’s Boast of our 5,000 Year History – Honored to Have Escorted the Comrade Great Leader Kim Il Sung – July 8, 1994,” are 4 meters high and 3 meters wide and the letters at Gumgang Mountain Gukji Peak saying “Hangil’s Female General Kim Chong Suk,” are 5 meters by 6 meters.

▲ Baekdu Mountain’s Hyangdo Peak’s “Baekdu Mountain – The Revolution’s Holy Mountain – Kim Jong Il February 16, 1992,” is done in embossed white lettering so that when it snow they won’t be covered.

▲ Gumgang Mountain’s Oknyo Peak lettering that reads “Gumgang Mountain is Chosun’s Driving Spirit – Kim Jong Il,” is 11 meters high and 8 meters wide.

In addition to this, Kim Father and Son idolization slogans on trees and engravings can be found in uncountable numbers at every well know place and tourist spot across the nation.


The Big Picture

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

North Korea is a country of portraits _ portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, that is. The portraits are ubiquitous. They are to be placed in every living room, in every office, in every railway (and, by extension, subway) carriage but, for some reason, not on buses or trolleybuses. The portraits adorn the entrances of all major public buildings, railways stations and schools. Reportedly, in the late 1990s, the largest portrait of Kim Il-sung within the city limits of Pyongyang graced the first department store in the very center of the North Korean capital. The portrait was 15 meters by 11 meters.

North Koreans have been living under the permanent gaze of the Great Leader for more than three decades. In the late 1960s, North Koreans were ordered to place these icons in their homes and offices. By 1972, when Kim’s 60th birthday was lavishly celebrated, North Korea had much greater density of portraits than could ever be found in Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China _ the two countries that bestowed this peculiar fondness for the Leader’s portraits on Korea.

In the late 1970s, the North Koreans received another set of instructions. They were ordered to display the portraits of Kim Jong-il, the heir designate. This had to be done “unofficially.’’ The propaganda insisted that there was a widespread movement of North Koreans who, purely out of love for the son of their ruler, began to adorn their dwellings with his portraits. Only in the late 1980s did Kim Jong-il’s portraits appear in public space, and from the early 1990s on they have been the same size as those of his father and they are put together in rooms and offices.

All portraits are produced by the Mansudae workshops that specialize in making images of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and their relatives. They are framed and glassed (and only the best glass and timber will do!).

In different eras, the Kims were depicted in diverse manners, and these changes tell a lot about changes in ideology and policy. In the 1960s and 1970s, Kim Il-sung wore a Mao suit, stressing the austerity and quasi-military character of the regime. In the mid-1980s, these portraits were replaced with new ones, depicting Kim Il-sung in a Western-type suit. This signalled the relative openness of the regime in the late 1980s. After Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, the new portraits also showed him in suits (incidentally, these portraits were called a “depiction of the Sun’’ since in his lifetime Kim was “The Sun of the Nation’’). However, from early 2001, Kim Il-sung has appeared in newly issued portraits in the military uniform of a generalissimo.

Kim Jong-il’s portrait also underwent similar changes. Initially he was also depicted in the dark-coloured Mao suit, once his favourite. However, the 2001 version showed him in the grandeur of a Marshal’s uniform. This once again confirmed the importance of the “army-first policy’’ proclaimed by Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s Glorious Marshal who _ unlike a vast majority of North Korean males _ never served in the military himself.

Even within private houses, the portraits are treated with the greatest of care. They are put on one of the walls, and that wall cannot be used for any other images or pinups. There are rules prescribing how exactly these icons should be placed. When a North Korean family moves to another place, they must start by hanging the Kims’ portraits on the wall. Random checks are conducted to make sure that proper care of the portraits is taken.

In the military, the portraits are hung in all rooms in permanent barracks. When a unit departs for a field exercise (as North Korean units do often), the portraits are taken with them. Once the platoon prepares its tent or, more commonly, its dugout, the portraits are placed there, and only after this ritual is the provisional shelter deemed suitable for life.

Oftenl the portraits become an important part of ritual. In schools, students are required to bow to the portraits and express their gratitude to the Great Leader who, in his wisdom and kindness, bestowed such a wonderful life on his subjects. The portraits feature very prominently in marriage ceremonies as well. The couple has to make deep bows to the portraits of the Great Leaders. This tribute is very public and serves as a culmination of the wedding ritual. It does not matter whether the wedding ceremony is held in a public wedding hall or at home.

The portraits are jealously protected. Even incidental damage of the portrait might spell disaster for the culprit. But that is another story…