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Christine Metz Howard
KU News Service
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Professor among few who study art of North Korea

Wed, 04/02/2014

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas art history professor is one of few scholars who have traveled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, specifically to study how art has helped shape the country’s narrative from triumphant revolutionaries to communist dynasty.

Marsha Haufler, a professor of art history and associate dean for international and interdisciplinary studies for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, has traveled to North Korea fives times since 2007. She is working on a book that examines the mosaic murals created and planned in North Korea during the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s eras.

Although a specialist in Chinese art, Haufler also teaches Korean art history and first went to North Korea to visit ancient sites and museums to collect material for a course called the Art and Culture of Korea.

“I had all kinds of books and pictures from South Korea, but very little from North Korea. It’s hard to do a survey of a region when you don’t have examples from half of it,” she said.

On her first visit, the contemporary mosaic murals caught Haufler’s eye. Found in subway stations, on the exteriors of stadiums, museums and theaters, and on freestanding “billboards” along major streets, these mosaics are a primary form of public art, especially in the capital Pyongyang, where they combine with sculptures to create open-air galleries.

“I didn’t go to study the mosaics. They are just what hit me,” Haufler said. 

Haufler notes she had little to no access to the mosaics’ production process or to how North Korean citizens receive the work; however, much can be learned from analysis of the murals’ subjects, styles, techniques and placement.

The mosaics are related to the socialist realist art created throughout Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe in the mid-20th century, and find counterparts, for instance, in the Moscow Metro.

The mosaics borrowed from the techniques, theme, style and placement of Soviet Union mosaics. The paintings and posters of China’s Cultural Revolution also influenced the North Korean work. However, while the Soviet Union and China moved away from these styles in the 1970s and 1980s, their grip on North Korea’s visual culture stayed strong.

Haufler found that early North Korean mosaics helped promote the regime’s utopian promises with visions of a socialist paradise on earth and images of happy, well-fed people with eyes lifted to a bright future. After Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, the mosaics began to represent the “Great Leader” as the “eternal president” and his son Kim Jong Il as his rightful heir and military leader who required unswerving devotion in order to face external military threats.

Haufler’s most recent trip was in the fall of 2013, when she traveled to the country to take advantage of an opportunity to see indoor mosaics. A trip the previous year, which focused on Buddhist temples as well as on mosaics, coincided with the end of the country’s 100-day period of mourning for Kim Jong Il, who died in December of 2011.

Haufler has published two scholarly articles on North Korean art. “Mosaic Murals of North Korea” appeared in the international symposium volume Exploring North Korean Arts. And, this past fall, Haufler published “Re-inscribing Mount Myohyang: from the Pohyon Temple to the International Friendship Exhibition," which examines the country’s preservation of Buddhist temples to political ends and the recasting of a famous Buddhist pilgrimage destination as devotional site dedicated to the Kim dynasty.

Haufler expects to complete a book on four decades of North Korean mosaics, illustrated with her own photographs, next year.



Matt Menzenski, a graduate student in Slavic languages & literatures, took this photo during President Obama’s speech at KU Thursday. Menzenski says he was struck by how relaxed the president was in his delivery. He missed a chance to hear former President Bill Clinton speak in his hometown in 2004, but finally got to see a sitting president this week at KU. “The opportunity to hear the president speak is just one of many great opportunities I've had at KU. So many interesting talks and events happen here all the time. I try to attend at least one a week-- it's never hard to find something interesting to go to.” Tags: University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures KU Dept of Slavic Languages - Friends & Alumni Barack Obama The White House #exploreKU #POTUSatKU

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Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See http://bit.ly/1xjjwJj). For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See http://bit.ly/1BoL9jv) The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (http://bit.ly/14fiBPl), associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.


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