Propaganda for a Perfect Stranger: The Image of Writing in Chosŏnhwa Portraits of Lim Su-kyung
Douglas Gabriel, Northwestern University
This paper reads a series of chosŏnhwa (North Korean ink painting) portraits of Lim Su-kyung, a South Korean student activist who travelled to North Korea illegally in 1989. As Lim became a pivotal icon in the North Korean image repertoire, North Korean painters regularly depicted her as a central figure in environments typically reserved for the Great Leader Kim Il-sung. I demonstrate that in their portraits of Lim, artists such as Kim Song-min (b. 1949) and Lee Chang (b. 1942) inventively oscillated between calligraphic mark making and pictorial illusion, extending antecedent models of socialist realism by tethering the representational image to the act of linguistic inscription. Produced during the late Cold War period, when the project of socialist realism appeared increasingly untenable, these works present the confident futurity implicit in the socialist realist image as paradoxically contingent on the semiotic indeterminacy of the written mark.