- North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection
- Prestel USA, 288 pp.
The images in the background of this poster are depictions of what can be called the classical instances of US imperialism in North Korean propaganda. From top to bottom: Kim Il Sung’s great-grandfather is said to have been involved in the torching of the USS General Sherman which had run aground off Pyongyang in 1866: the 1950 Sinch’on massacre that left over 30,000 men, women and children dead is attributed to US troops. The other examples are the 1953 armistice treaty ending the Korean War: the 1968 USS Pueblo spying incident: and the 1994 downing of a US helicopter which had inadvertently strayed over the military demarcation line.
Stylistically, North Korean art is far more than a mere copy of Soviet Russian socialist realism. As was the case with the revolution itself, North Korean socialist realist art had to accord with Korea’s specific historical conditions and cultural traditions. Kim Il Sung pronounced that “Korean Painting” [Chosonhwa], the indigenous post-revolutionary development of traditional ink painting, was the best representative of Korean styles and emotions. He made the essential features of Korean painting the model for all fine arts. Kim Jong Il in his Treatise on Art (Misullon, 1992) described the qualities of Korean Painting as clarity, compactness, and delicacy. These characteristics have become the standard applied to all art produced in North Korea. As such, they also form the basis and model for poster art. On the latter, Kim Jong Il had more to say in his treatise on art. As important tools in the mobilization of the masses, posters have to have an instantaneous impact on the viewers’ understanding and their desire to act upon this understanding. Their message has to be accessible, clear and direct; informative and explanatory, as well as exhortative. The link between contemplation and action is crucial. A poster artist is ultimately an agitator, who, familiar with the party line and endowed with a sharp analysis and judgment of reality produces a rousing depiction of policies and initiatives that stimulate the people into action. Only if the poster appeals to the ideological and aesthetic sentiments of the people will it succeed in truly rousing the people. Kim Jong Il refers to poster painters as standard bearers of their times, submerged in the overwhelming reality and in touch with the revolutionary zeal and creative power of the people, leading the way from a position among the people.
Posters are visual illustrations of the slogans that surround the people of North Korea constantly. North Korean society is in a permanent mobilization. Party and government declarations are stripped down to single-line catchphrases. Through their endless repetition in banners, newspaper headlines, and media reports, these compact slogans become self-explanatory, simultaneously interpreting and constructing reality.
-Koen de Ceuster
From “North Korean Posters” by David Heather and Koen de Ceuster, with the permission of Prestel.