You are here: American University College of Arts & Sciences American University Museum 2016 Contemporary North Korean Art: The Evolution of Socialist Realism

Contemporary North Korean Art: The Evolution of Socialist Realism June 18 - August 14, 2016

Farewell by Park Ryong

Park Ryong, Farewell, 1997.
Chosonhwa, 48.5 x 64 in. (North Korean)


Rescue in the Dark Sea by Kim Song-keun, Cha Yong-ho, Kim Chol, and Ri Ki-song

Kim Song-keun, Cha Yong-ho, Kim Chol, Ri Ki-song, Rescue in the Dark Sea, 1997.
Chosonhwa (ink on rice paper), 81 x 157 in.
Courtesy of Mr. Ji Zheng-tai, Beijing, China.

Exhibition Description

The forms and structure of contemporary North Korean art, a central and highly developed dimension of the national culture, are largely unknown to the outside world. Whether a true sense of art as understood in the West exists or not in North Korea has remained an open question for most people outside the DPRK.

This exhibition, the first of its kind in the US, seeks to broaden understanding of North Korean art beyond stereotypes of propaganda and kitsch to show sophisticated and nuanced expressive achievements. It investigates previously unrevealed evidence of North Korean artistic experimentation and that nation's particular evolution of Socialist Realism within its own culturally homogeneous context.

Special focus is given to the development of Chosonhwa, North Korea's predominant painting medium that is revered as the nations most refined. Chosonhwa is traditional Oriental ink-and-brush painting on rice paper that absorbed Socialist Realism influences in the 1950s and has since progressed to become its own distinct art form.

While working within prescribed thematic bounds, DPRK artists often succeed in conveying profound human emotion. On view will be important Chosonhwa works from the 1960s through the present, including monumental tableaus, that clearly reflect the DPRK's special blend of Socialism with Korean characteristics.

This project is the fruit of curator and Georgetown Professor BG Muhn's personal expertise on the subject.Over the past five years he has made numerous study trips to Pyongyang. His research has been on-site and first-hand, with unprecedented access to the original works and their artists. He says, "I visited many art studios including Mansudae Art Studio, the largest state-run art studio in the world, and interviewed numerous artists and art historians. It has been an awakening experience to explore the heart of North Korea's ever-evolving Chosonhwa, the only variety of Socialist Realism that remains in active production today."