Nuclear bombs and geopolitical controversy are often the first things associated with the isolated Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea and its volatile leader Kim Jong-il. Yet behind the secretive curtain also lies a little known and slowly expanding world of art.
This is the first book to be published in the West which explores the role of art in North Korea, a role that has been based on pronouncements made by the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung and his son the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, about what the State expected of its artists. Jane Portal makes comparisons with those of other, similar, regimes in the past, and finds a clear connection between North Korean art and the socialist realism of the Soviet Union and China. She places North Korean art in its historical, political and social context, and discusses the system of producing, employing, promoting and honouring artists. Painting, calligraphy, poster art, monumental sculpture, architecture and applied arts are included, together with a review of the way in which archaeology has been used and even created for political ends, to justify the present regime and legitimize its lineage. Jane Portal thus reveals much about art made under totalitarian rule, as well as how art subverts the regime.
Art Under Control in North Korea accompanies an exhibition of North Korean art at the British Museum.