[KS] Smiling Kim Il Sung statue in the Mansudae Grand Monument

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Fri Dec 28 15:43:38 EST 2012

On Fri, 28 Dec 2012 14:06:24 +0000, Haufler, Marsha Smith wrote:
> Rudiger apparently seeks a more concrete interpretation of the 
> "glasses, smile, and Western suit" iconography of the statue than the 
> one I offered back in September, and indeed, I provided no supporting 
> data that might convince a social scientist. 

Just to get the facts straight (always a good start, in my opinion):
It is really not so much "iconography" that you talk about here but 
rather "iconology."
The iconographical interpretation is in this case very simple and 
straight forward, and nobody on this list, I am sure, would not 
understand it. But--same as with my North Korean flag example (and the 
national emblem)--the face value of the depicted symbols do not 
necessarily reveal it all, and so a conservative or nationalist (later 
SOUTH Korean) historical witness (as quoted by Prof. Choe) would see 
the negative and undemocratic Soviet orders behind the North Korean 
flag, while someone with the same basic information, but using art 
historical tools and putting the whole process into a historical 
context, could easily make the statement that this flag is an 
appropriate modernized version close to the 'old' t'aegŭkki, mirroring 
a modernized expression of Korean tradition and symbolism that takes 
very well care of expressing national pride (by modernizing ancient 
symbols, not by deleting them from the flag). Under the circumstances 
of the time, late 1940s, the North Koreans (exactly because of the 
Soviets, and also because of the Korean intellectuals they attracted, 
such as Kim Chu-gyŏng, who had gone north) were far better when it came 
to "modernization" efforts. That kind of interpretation requires an 
iconological approach that pays special attention to the historical 
context, also of where such a work fits into the artist's work (not 
alone the state's situation). That flag example is also a nice example 
of how "reliable" (resp. unreliable) historical eyewitnesses are, and 
of how easily just everyone can and is interpreting art and symbols in 
whatever way fits personal needs  and opinions ("bad Soviets + 
traitorous North Koreans selling off on their own flag" vs. 
"modernization through Soviets + intelligent artistic Korean solution 
to modernize and make-socialist while keeping basic traditional 
symbolism"). You can chew that like bubblegum in your mouth and form 
whatever shapes you like. 

If you were in Korea during the presidential campaign you may be 
familiar with these images below: gold is everywhere the emperor's 
color, and the fact that in North Korea the images of father sun are 
tried to be "matched up" with each other to indicate a legacy of rule 
and power is neither anything new or revealing (see e.g. Sonia Ryang, 
Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Stephen Epstein, and others) nor is it anything 
historically unusual or something limited to Communist or 
pseudo-Communist regimes. 
Kumi-si, November 2011--father and daughter, both given a nice goldish 
shimmering touch. 
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  (Photo: Yonhap)

Sculptor Kim Yŏng-wŏn's (Hongik U) original design (16 meters x 18 
meters x 10.7 meters high)--seemingly that would have been preferred by 
the family (as it was already published)--seen below and published in 
Spring 2011 (I believe), had no goldish shimmer, but was in rather 
obvious ways reminding Korean bloggers and newspaper critics of 
something else … and guess what that would have been? (Yes, indeed, 
THAT one.)
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 (Photo: Model, Kim Yŏng-wŏn's Office)

And now--what does the artist want to tell us here? Oh hey, let us get 
back to the 21st century, please.



Frank Hoffmann

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