Thursday, October 10, 2013

Martin Kramer: "October 1973: Panorama and Myopia" and North Korean Art

Hafez Asad and Kim Il-Sung
Sandbox: Martin Kramer on the Middle East

Professor Martin Kramer commemorates the 40th anniversary of the October 1973 War with Israel by visiting panoramas in Cairo and Damascus depicting the victories of Arab armies, though Israel won the war, of course, and Kramer could visit only online. Of interest to me is that the panoramas are painted by North Korean artists:
The construction of panoramas has become a North Korean specialty, and the Egyptian and Syrian panoramas are of North Korean design and execution.
Kramer comments insightfully, even humorously, on each image, including the one above:
What are friends for? Hafez Asad and Kim Il-Sung hang together at the Panorama. They met in real life in September 1974, when Asad paid a state visit to North Korea. Both leaders have since been succeeded by their sons, who went on to collaborate on bigger projects. And if you, too, are one of a dwindling number of dictators, you might consider contracting Mandusae of Pyongyang to build a monument to you. Here is a sort of prospectus:
"Need a massive monument built for cheap and on short notice? In this age of post-Soviet malaise, no one has maintained the time-honored art of building massively unnecessary bronze and concrete monuments. No one, that is, except the fine revolutionaries of the Mansudae Art Studios, one of the largest contributors to the DPRK's economy. Not content with keeping all of the giant monuments and statues to themselves, the 4000 artists of the studio work in glorious revolutionary harmony to provide the world with great monuments to great men. Mansudae's work can be found in Syria at the October War Remembrance Panorama, in Senegal at the African Renaissance Monument, and at state houses all over Africa."
Order yours now—before it's too late.
Quite an amusing little satire -- even Hafez Asad and Kim Il-Sung are smiling! But there's a serious side to this work of art above. Concentrate on the position of the hands and ask yourself who is 'presenting' whom. If the photo here isn't large enough, go to Kramer's site and enlarge the image. I think viewers will agree that Kim's right arm is shown in the stronger position, with his wrist apparently straight and his fingers above Asad's left hand. Asad's hand, by contrast, is depicted palm up, with left arm and wrist subtly twisted into an unnatural, weak position. This symbolism is not overt, for we are gazing from below, but it is apparent if one looks for it -- which I was doing, for I'm familiar enough with North Korean propaganda to know that no North Korean painter could depict Kim in a work of art without implying that this 'Great Leader' is the greater man.

A Juche Leader depends on no lesser being . . .

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At 5:01 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Juchae... the ultimate irony for a beggar state.

A friend of mine refers to this bombastic style of art as "totalitarian Gothic." I saw such art in East Berlin, back when there was an East Berlin. I wonder what's happened, since 1989, to those fields of concrete, those wide, empty boulevards, and those soulless sculpture gardens.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I recall seeing graveyards of statues removed from exhibition. Wish I had a gigantic proletarian figure for the kids' playground . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:04 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Or to serve as the pigeons' toilet.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Or for pigoons to root around . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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