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Nuclear bombs and geopolitical controversy are often the first things associated with North Korea and its volatile leader Kim Jong II Yet behind the secretive curtain of this isolated nation also lies a little known and slowly expanding world of art Art Under Control in North Korea is the first Western publication to explore the state controlled role of art in North Korea This timely volume places North Korean art in its historical political and social contexts with a discussion on the state system of cultivating and promoting artists and an examination of the range of art produced from painting and calligraphy to architecture and applied art Portal offers an incisive analysis that compares the dictatorial control exerted over artists by North Korean leaders to that of past regimes She also examines the ways in which archaeology has been employed for political ends to legitimize the present regime Art Under Control in North Korea is an intriguing and vibrant volume that explores the creation of art under totalitarian rule and the ways art can subvert a dictatorial regime

10 thoughts on “Art Under Control in North Korea

  1. says:

    For an authoritative look at art in the totalitarian state turn to Jane Portal’s Art Under Control in North Korea Portal combines a clear and concise overview of the politics and history of North Korea with an examination of its art She notes that in spite of the nationalistic Juche or self reliance ideology North Korean art is essentially derivative A statue of Kim Il Sung looks just like statues of Stalin or Saddam; the Arch of Triumph meanwhile is a slightly larger version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris itself based on a Roman designArt in service of the state tends to have similar characteristics Portal argues It’s grand in scale and realistic in style occasionally idealistic and always “educational” Over 60 years this has produced in Korea such a high concentration of Socialist art that “Pyongyang as a city provides a kind of theatrical or film set for the Socialist state” With its many beautifully colored reproductions and photos Art Under Control might cause readers to wonder if only for a moment whether this is such a bad thing

  2. says:

    Particularly strong on images this books is a nice short introduction to the world of the arts in North Korea The backdrop for this discussion—the country’s history the cult of the Kims etc—was presented in a fairly biased and incomplete manner and the analysis of the art discussed was fairly thin Nonetheless the book covered all the bases naming top artists in each field and briefly discussing their work The subject matter made it fascinating reading