‘Grandfather’s Sight-Seeing in Pyongyang’
Choe Byong Gyu (147 x110 cm); from the North Korean publication Korean Fine Art (1970).
If ever you wondered why so much attention was paid to the making of Pyongyang; the showcase capital of the DPRK – it is all here.
The capital was designed on a scale that would make you feel part of something much greater than the individual, to make one feel proud and impressed with this strong and prosperous country being rebuilt on the ruins of the Korean War. This was the place to be; your government were looking after you both in terms of material life and aesthetics of public infrastructure too.
But also, it is a power play. You are a small part of something much bigger than you… so bear that in mind.
Everywhere you turn, there are reminders of the revolution via propaganda, murals and, sculpture. All exhorting the people to work harder in service of the common good and to reap the benefits that come from this collective heroic labour.
In this work, the grandfather, fresh in from the countryside, is visiting his à la mode daughter or daughter-in-law.
She has a fashionable hairstyle (they liked it big in the late 70s) and wearing a contemporary adaption of the choson-ot (조선옷, the North Korean term for the traditional Korean outfits they wear here).
The title emphasises the grandfather specifically, placing him as the focus and the poor unmentioned grandmother plays second fiddle. She is pictured in a rather drab choson-ot which North Korean viewers would still assume to be her best. Visiting the capital is cause for dressing up after all.
Grandfather is also in traditional clothing with a more modern hat. His beard also marks him as a countrysider (as does the grandmother’s picnic basket). Traditional clothing and beards were rejected by the urban elite as a throwback and something from the past incompatible with the city’s new image.
Still, traditions held firmer in rural areas and this grandfather sits on the fence between the old and the new in his dress, stylings, and family situation. The urban branch of his family clearly growing as we see with the addition of two smartly dressed children on this day out with him.
Both the Cholllima and Hyosik metro lines were built by 1975 and represented a major modernisation achievement for the city. All stations were individually beautifully decorated as they were viewed as underground palaces. Note the chandelier (a speciality of the Nampo glassworks factory). These are common in the Pyongyang Metro and each station has different types and models; something impressive to any visitor, especially to anyone coming in from the hinterland.
Just like dear ol’ Grandfather.
A current revamp of the metro stations.
Here, we see fewer chandeliers; more tv and pink pastels.