Passion, Paradox and Propaganda: Exploring North Korean Art through Chosunhwa


Thursday, November 1, 2012, 4:30pm to 6:30pm


Porté Seminar Room (S250), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Korea Colloquium

B.G. Muhn, Professor, Art and Art History Department, Georgetown University

During his 25 years at Georgetown, Professor B.G. Muhn has been recognized for consistently demonstrating a devotion to teaching and inspiring his students.   He has also achieved substantial and noteworthy professional recognition through solo exhibitions in venues such as the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul, the Stux Gallery in Chelsea in New York City and the American University Museum in Washington, DC. He is scheduled to have a solo exhibition in Beijing in 2013. Through his professional endeavors Professor Muhn has been awarded numerous times for his artistic merits including the Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award and the 1st place award in the Bethesda Painting Awards Competition. He also has received acclaim in reviews and interviews, appearing in prominent media such as The New York Times, Art in America and CNN

In addition to actively showing his artworks Professor Muhn has also authored a collection of essays on his art entitled "Decode." For the last several years Professor Muhn took interest in and studied relatively unknown North Korean art. During his recent trips to Pyongyang, North Korea, he furthered his research by visiting the Chosun National Art Museum and other national art exhibitions as well as interviewing North Korean artists and art historians. His research will culminate in a book which will be published in 2014.

Chaired by Carter J. Eckert, Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History


Chosunhwa is an area of relatively unknown North Korean art. It is a rarefied form of the Far East Asian traditional art of ink and brush painting on rice paper.

The aspect of my trips to North Korea in recent years that struck me the most was the enormous quantity of North Korean art—art that is virtually unknown to the outside world. During the trip, I had an opportunity to visit Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, the largest art community in the world, with four thousand artists and staff members working in the vast facility of the Studio. I also viewed many art exhibitions including a National Art Exhibition and I met several Chosunhwa artists and discussed their work with them. Chosunhwa is the most popular and revered art form in North Korea and many of the paintings in North Korea, including large-scale propaganda figure paintings, are created in this medium. I was especially impressed by the way North Korean artists have developed the art form into unique expressions that are not found in the Far East Asian countries of China, Japan, or South Korea. 

Though my talk, I would like to question how it was possible for North Koreans to develop their unique expression, what aesthetic values were emphasized, how much artistic self-expression (a core aspect in Western art), was permitted, etc. Another puzzling question regards the vivid rendition of various human facial expressions (most commonly expressions of joy and happiness) found in North Korean art. In contrast to the harsh reality of the North Korean people’s everyday life, the subtle nuances captured in various facial expressions is intriguing, and I would like to explore the psychology of this paradoxical pursuit of vivid human expression. 

The Korea Colloquium is generously supported by the Min Young-Chul Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute, Harvard University

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