The Asian Library

Witte Singel 27, Leiden


The Asian Library, International Institute for Asian Studies, LeidenAsiaCentre, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies

16-17 June - International Workshop: The DPRK through its posters: De-centering North Korean Studies

*See below for full programme or registration*


Coinciding with the launch of an online annotated database of printed North Korean posters, the Asian Library hosts the first ever international workshop dedicated exclusively to the study of (a specific set of) North Korean posters. In this truly interdisciplinary hands-on WORK-shop, scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds (history, art history, anthropology, literature, film studies) will engage in a close reading of North Korean visual culture. This workshop is a unique opportunity to discover, discuss and apply diverse research methods and approaches to these versatile visual data and to highlight how these posters can bring new insights into how we understand North Korean history, ideology, society, visual culture and imaginary. In creatively engaging a hitherto largely disregarded body of sources, this workshop furthers reflection on conducting North Korea studies.


Stripped to its bare essence, the question driving this workshop is: ‘What do (these) posters tell us about North Korea?’ There is a false simplicity to this question as it opens up a rich vista of approaches. Posters are explicit propaganda tools, speaking to immediate (and highly diverse) policy concerns. As propaganda instruments, they seek to affect people in their attitudes and behaviour. As tools of mass communication and social control, they shed light on state-society relations and how these are imagined. Posters, along with slogans, are an integral part of North Korean everyday reality. They frame the social space within which North Koreans operate and make that space intelligible. At the same time, posters reflect an imaginary of the everyday and the socially accepted/expected behaviour that goes with it.


Close analysis of these posters reveals how social reality is constructed and framed. The effectiveness of posters as instruments of mass communication depends on the easy accessibility and readability for North Korea viewers. Analysing the visual rhetoric of posters reveals a dynamic interplay/integration of slogans/text and visuals. The legibility of a North Korean poster not only results from abiding by a specific (visual) grammar, but is further enhanced by the repetition of slogans and images over various cultural products and media. The visual language of poster art explicitly relates to North Korean fine arts (theory), while at the same time being indebted to the revolutionary poster traditions of the Soviet Union and the PRC.


This international workshop is in phase with a cultural turn in North Korea studies that historicizes the DPRK, acknowledges its epistemological subjectivity, and pays particular attention to the way culture (and its modes) contributes to the social construction of reality. The workshop aims in particular to highlight the potential of posters in general and this collection in particular as primary sources for this kind of innovative research on North Korea.
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You can register for this workshop via this link.
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Friday, 16 June 2017
9.00-9.15: Opening Remarks: Koen De Ceuster (Leiden University)
9.15-10.00: Carey Park (Ehwa Women’s University)
‘북한 선전화와 직관선동 (直觀煽動)’ (North Korean posters and ‘intuitive agitation’)
Discussant: Benjamin Joinau (Hongik University/EHESS)
10.00-10.45: Koen De Ceuster (Leiden University)
‘Pointing Fingers: The Visual Rhetorics of North Korean Posters’
Discussant: Adam Cathcart (Leeds University)
– coffee break –
11.00-11.45: Suzy Kim (Rutgers University)
‘Aesthetics of High Socialism in North Korean Posters, 1950s-1970s’
Discussant: Stefan Landsberger (Leiden University)
11.45-12.30: Andre Schmid (University of Toronto)
‘Rabbits and Pre-fab: Visualizing the economy in the 1950s and 60s.’
Discussant: Adam Cathcart (Leeds University)
12.30-14.30: lunch break
14.30-15.15: Benoît Berthelier (Sorbonne/INALCO)
‘Solving the Labor-Leisure Trade-off: Fun and Games in Post-War North Korea.’
Discussant: Adam Cathcart (Leeds University)
15.15-16.00: Immanuel Kim (Binghamton University)
‘No Comrade Left Behind: Imagining the Future of the Educated Masses’
Discussant: Benjamin Joinau (Hongik University)
– coffee break –
16.15-17.00: Maaike de Vries (University of Strathclyde/Leiden University)
‘Gazing Back, Looking Forward: The ‘Re-presentation’ of Gender Dynamics in North Korean Posters.’
Discussant: Stefan Landsberger (Leiden University)
Saturday, 17 June 2017
9.15-10.00: Mary Ginsberg (British Museum)
‘Mixed Metaphors: North Korean Posters in an International Context’
Discussant: Stefan Landsberger (Leiden University)
10.00-10.45: Dmitry Mironenko (Hebrew University),
‘Comic elements in North Korean propaganda posters’
Discussant: Benjamin Joinau (Hongik University)
– coffee break –
11.00-11.45: Jeon Young-sun (Dongguk University)
‘전쟁 드라우마와 적대감 (敵對感)의 탄생: 삐라와 포스터 속의 적대 이미지’ (War trauma and the birth of hostility: Enemy images in posters and leaflets)
Discussant: Benjamin Joinau (Hongik University)
11.45-12.30: Sonia Ryang (Rice University)
‘Evil and the enemy: one to live with, another to kill.’
Discussant: Adam Cathcart (Leeds University)
12.30-13.00: General discussion
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This workshop is made possible through the generous support of the Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden Asia Year, Leiden University Library, International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).
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Credits Poster:
Pak Sang-nak, Factories and machines, clean! Houses, clothes and food too, clean! (1958)
Following the nationalization of industry and the collectivization of agriculture, successive campaigns focused on promoting a sense of collective ownership and individual responsibility. Proper maintenance of scarce capital goods was the principal concern there. In this poster, the same theme is linked to the broader issue of public hygiene on the one hand and the standards of a ‘modern’ cultured life on the other. Beyond its immediate theme, this poster speaks volumes about enduring gender dynamics.