N.Korean artworks shine at Beijing’s Mansudae Art Museum

By Chen Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/17 18:23:40

At River of Botong by North Korean artist Kim Myong-un Photo: Chen Xi/GT

Photo: Courtesy of Mansudae Art Museum in Beijing's well-known 798 Art District

Under the soft rays of sunshine a huge statue of a soldier stands by the banks of a river where is docked a large naval vessel. In one hand he holds a flag high, as if celebrating a victory, while his other is extending in front of him as if he is leading the way for others to follow. Beneath the large statue, a group of students dressed in school uniforms and women in the colorful traditional clothes of North Korea look up at the statue, forming a very harmonious picture.

Realist paintings 

This painting hanging on the wall of the Mansudae Art Museum in Beijing's well-known 798 Art District, comes from Kim Myong-un, head of the oil painting creation group at North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio and winner of the country's Kim Jong-il Prize. The ship in the painting is none other than the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), a spy ship that was attacked and captured by North Korean forces on January 23, 1968 in what later became known as the "Pueblo crisis."

The Pueblo was originally a military freighter but was converted into an intelligence collection vessel in 1966. It was equipped with the most advanced detection equipment of that era, which were mainly used to detect and monitor the radar and communication facilities of the Korean People's Army along the east coast of North Korea. North Korea stated that the Pueblo illegally intruded its territorial waters, and so attacked and captured the US Navy vessel. The event severely heightened the political tension between the two countries.

"The painting is full of patriotic elements including a pigeon flying through the air and a monument to heroes. These are all characteristics of paintings in North Korea, which are direct and full of realism," Ji Zhengtai, curator of the Mansudae Art Museum, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Another common theme seen among Kim's paintings at the museum is Changbai Mountain, a mountain range that acts as a natural border between China and North Korea. In many of Kim's paintings, the lush forests and clean rivers under the mountain are bathed in sunlight.

Ji said the mountain range is often used in the painter's works to symbolize the friendship between the two countries since it connects them geographically. 

Elegant Koryo celadon 

In addition to paintings, the museum also showcases many exquisite examples of Korean ceramics, mainly from Im Kyong-ik, one of North Korea's famous Merited Artists and the eldest son of Im Sa-jun, a Kim Il-Sung Prize winner and a People's Artist who has created many porcelain works at the Mansudae Art Studio. 

In the central hall of the museum, one large and one medium-sized vase are on display on a wooden table. Ji noted that the larger  one was made by Im Sa-jun, while the smaller was the work of his son.

Many of the artists' ceramics are modeled after Koryo celadon. Considered one of the most beautiful types of porcelain in the world, Koryo celadon was truly a major achievement in the field of ceramics. The porcelain was traditionally produced during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), which inherited the ceramics process of the Kingdom of Silla (57 BC - 935). Today artists continue to follow in the footsteps of ancient masters to produce these works of art. 

Koryo celadons are usually a beautiful and elegant bluish-green color with various white decorations under the glaze. These patterns include people, animals, plants and natural scenery, with themes today mainly focused on national identity and modern aesthetics that reflect the wishes and ambitions of North Koreans.

According to Ji, it may take at least three months to finish one ceramic work. 

"The artists paid high attention to the selection of the raw materials, most of which are from China," Ji noted. 

Cultural exchanges

The Mansudae Art Museum is a joint venture by Beijing Jixichang Culture and Mansudae Art Studio, one of the largest centers of art production in the world. Officially opened in May 2008, the museum is the only cultural and artistic institution that North Korea has invested in overseas for cultural exchanges. Since its opening, the museum has helped shine a light on art from North Korea so that Chinese and visitors from other countries alike can enjoy its beauty. 

The great thing about North Korean art is its inheritance. 

Art creation has been emphasized in the country since the first leader of North Korea Kim Il-sung, who established the Merited Artist title to award those who created marvelous works of art. 

For over the past seven decades, the North Korean art industry has developed into a very mature industry with its own unique characteristics, Ji explained.

"Since North Korea is implementing a planned economy, artists will be less tempted by commercial interest and more devoted to their creations. The artworks they create are very pure and meaningful, which is what we lack in this fast-paced society," Ji said.   

Li noted that the museum plans to invite three to four artists from the Mansudae Art Studio to China for cultural exchange, during which time they will visit some contemporary art exhibitions to provide fresh inspiration for their creations. 

"I believe that cultural exchanges in art between China and North Korea has a prosperous future," Ji noted.
Newspaper headline: Cultural bridge

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