Left: The narrative is supported by the text “Kim Yong Chol Succeeds in High-Speed Drifting”.
The tag on the male reads “Occupational Health and Safety”.
The locomotive proudly bears the DPRK emblem, to reinforce the fact it is made in the country
Right: The slogan reads “We Do What the Party Decides!”
The artwork is a piece of theatre, actors frozen in their role, various props and other visual clues all having a function to make the message clear: if you work hard to fill quotas you will live a happy life. The artist will have travelled to the mine to sketch the workers and these will form the basis for the final work.
The scenes also show the respect the young miners are receiving from their elders. In Korea, this is of particular importance, perhaps a vestige of a Confucian past, but certainly in contemporary Korea paying respect to elders is of utmost importance, and for the elders to pay tribute to you is an honour.
The compositions focus on celebrating output, the result of teamwork, however, they both focus on the adulation of an individual. Individual heroes from the proletariat are found throughout North Korean Socialist Realist paintings. Whilst the paintings embody the spirit of the individual sacrificing himself towards collectivist ideals, the paradox is that these artworks also venerate the individual (and oftern a very good looking one at that!). We had this paradox explained to us by a North Korean official that in a work unit, an individual is allowed to be in the vanguard, to show the way forward. However, we are pretty sure that the artist is aware that it is more appealing to see an attractive figure receiving adulation, beauty is both consciously and unconsciously linked to goodness, health and therefore success.
Both paintings demonstrate individual/group sacrifice where the reward may not be financial but it certainly is for kudos. During our filming of the documentary A State of Mind our interview with one of the protagonists Hyon Son, revealed a rebellious independent streak as a young girl. She had played truant from school but after being caught her parents and teachers brought her into line “ I learnt to sacrifice myself for the group.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il
The miner in the underground scene strikes a heroic pose, what we would see as slightly affected. Whereas the chap in the artwork of the team outside the miner in the singlet is shown all muscles. Nevertheless, both are sure-fire winners in the eyes of their girls.
Whilst these paintings show the success of the individual and the team it is clear there is a sensual angle. Perhaps this is to make the paintings appealing to a younger generation. This is a painting clearly made to show a bit of passion, giggles of the girls whispering to each other about how good-looking these men are, rather than how he has fulfilled his task.
The artist expresses himself in a lyrical way by contrasting the burly man in the blue safety hat with a bunch of delicate flowers. However, reveals in his expression that he is clearly touched.
Both paintings demonstrate individual/group sacrifice where the reward may not be in the financial sense but it certainly is for kudos. During our filming of the documentary A State of Mind, our interview with one of the protagonists Hyon Son revealed a rebellious independent streak as a young girl. She had played truant from school but after being caught her parents and teachers brought her into line “I learnt to sacrifice myself for the group.”