This linocut print was made in 1981, a year before the completion of ‘The Tower of the Juche Idea’ (commonly known as the Juche Tower). Its opening was timed to coincide with the seventieth birthday of President Kim Il Sung on 15th April 1982.
Much of North Korean socialist realism is allegorical, it is made to deliver a political or social message, there is almost no ‘art for art’s sake’. In this instance the story is of a group of students with their teacher heading off for a congratulatory performance to inspire the workers – the message enforcing the pride one should be feeling while engaged in the construction of the Juche Tower, this beacon of political thought and physical manifestation of the guiding ideology of the entire nation: a concept in concrete unlike any existing elsewhere.
Like most construction projects in North Korea, the crane is topped with a large socialist red flag, denoting the presence of ongoing labour by a work team, but also perhaps in this case perhaps alluding to the Juche Flame that will eventually top of the stone tower when it reaches its full height of 150 metres.
Photograph of the Juche Tower from a similar angle from where the artist Kim Un Hui would have drawn his initial sketch. In the linocut the roofline of the Grand People’s Study House on Kim Il Sung Square is shown, but in the photograph it is hidden from view because of the stepped plinth.
Detail of the notice board congratulating one of the builders
Pyongyang’s Tower of the Juche Idea is one of the most iconic monuments in the DPRK. At 170 metres high (150m for the tower, and 20m for the iconic flame), this symbol of the guiding ideology of the nation (Juche literally means ‘the master of one’s destiny’) can be seen throughout the city. It is illuminated by a torch, the Juche Flame which glows during the night (a bit like the electric fire effect my Granny used to have in her sitting room). A little aside – I think the height of the tower includes the big stepped base as the elevator to the top also starts from a basement level underneath the main tower – but don’t quote me on that!