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North Korean Images at Utopia’s Edge

Painting of construction workers in North Korea

North Korean Images at Utopia’s Edge

January 18–March 19, 2011

Organized by The Korea Society and presented by the Centre for the Study of Korea, Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs and the University of Toronto Art Centre

University of Toronto Art Centre

North Korean Images at Utopia’s Edge spans three decades and features 24 wood block prints from the Nicholas Bonner Collection. These prints offer a fascinating picture of North Korean conceptions of daily life and work, family “Fatherland.” Four subject areas delineate the contours of North Korea’s vision of an earthly paradise: harmonious families, plenteous landscapes, male laborers and women at work.

The twenty-four colourful prints depicting visions of daily life in the Democratic People’s Republic were produced over the past three decades and taken from the private collection of Nicholas Bonner. Contented working men and women, harmonious families and plenteous landscapes together suggest the importance of work to the utopian imagination in North Korea. Landscapes appear as testaments to human endeavour, group figures suggest the power and contentment of collective activity and portraits point to the pride of partaking individually in the realm of production. Work is presented as a source of pride, happiness and courage in an illustrative tradition that proves the long history of woodcut printing throughout East Asia is still thriving today.

The Centre for the Study of Korea is excited to be involved in presenting At Utopia’s Edge, explains Assistant Professor Janet Poole because it offers a rare opportunity to consider how artists in North Korea represent their own ideal society. She underlines that “the relationship between the state and artists in North Korea is complicated and artists may not be free to paint something outrageous, something that criticised the state for example, but that doesn’t mean their creations are necessarily those of the state and not their own.

In Canada it is hard to see beyond the images of a militaristic and enigmatic state, this exhibition expands the parameters of what might be considered things North Korean: into the realms of work, art and utopian dreams.”

Expanding knowledge is also a goal of the Korea Society, the show’s organizer. Since 2003 the Society has presented innovative exhibitions to encourage a deeper understanding of Korea and Korean culture in the United States. More recently they have launched a North American traveling exhibition program to highlight Korean history, culture, religion and contemporary issues. Jinyoung Kim, Gallery Director of the Korea Society goes on to say “that with this exhibition the Society hopes to create many small ripples that will multiply and combine to become a larger wave of appreciation and understanding of Korea (both South and North) and its culture, kindling curiosity and encouraging further explorations.”

Collection of Nicholas Bonner, courtesy of The Korea Society Gallery

Our Supporters

We gratefully acknowledge the project support from Manulife Financial.

Title Image: Jong Gwan Su, Propaganda Van Girl “2.7 Times More Than Planned”, 1988.

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