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Koen de Ceuster

Koen de Ceuster

Koen De Ceuster is a university lecturer in Korean Studies at Leiden University (Netherlands). His research has focused on the socio-cultural history of colonial Korea, the historiography of modern Korea, and more broadly the politics of memory. He is a keen observer of, and (international) commentator on inter-Korean affairs and has become a recognized authority on North Korean art, reading North Korean art and art practices through the lens of North Korean art theory. He has (co-) curated exhibitions of North Korean art in various countries, established an annotated digital database of North Korean posters (hosted by the Asian Library, Leiden University), and published on North Korean art theory and practice. He shared his insights on doing fieldwork in North Korea in Faire du terrain en Corée du Nord. Ecrire autrement les sciences sociales, sous la direction de Valérie Gelézeau et Benjamin Joinau (Paris : L’Atelier des Cahiers, 2021).   

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Making North Koreans; role models in visual arts

Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Villes et campagnes en Asie », animé par Valérie Gelézeau et Françoise Ged

  • Jeudi 19 janvier, 10h30-12h30. Bâtiment de l’EHESS du Campus Condorcet, salle 50, 2 cours des Humanités – 93330 Aubervilliers

Résumé :

In this seminar, we analyse how the visual arts (posters and paintings) contribute to the socialization of North Koreans by focusing on the key notion of representative models (chŏnhyŏng-ron) in North Korean art theory. From generic figures in posters visually reaching out to the viewer, to the social dynamics and public life depicted in theme paintings, a composite image of the ideal citizen leading a life dedicated to the common good transpires. While there is no greater role model than the leader, and no virtue greater than loyalty and dedication to the leader, another core value that permeates the visual arts is comradely love (tongji’ae).

Historical Memory in North Korean Art

Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Histoire de l’Asie orientale contemporaine : sources, méthodes, objets », animé par Alain Delissen, Ken Daimaru et Victor Louzon

  • Mercredi 25 janvier, 15h30-18h30. Université Paris Cité, salle Léon Vandermeersch, 5 rue Thomas Mann – 75013 Paris

Résumé :

North Korea’s emanation of socialist realist art, juche realism, is squarely leader centred. In the narrative ‘theme paintings’ (chujehwa), no subject is more important than themes from the leader’s life. The leader’s biography is woven into the fabric of the nation’s history to the point of being inseparable. Through a close reading of a selection of theme paintings, and informed by North Korean art theory, we establish how such theme paintings contribute to the formation of a coherent historical memory as a politics of affect.

North Korea as a Spectacle State

Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Intelligences de la Corée », animé par Isabelle Sancho, Alain Delissen et Valérie Gelézeau

  • Vendredi 27 janvier, 10h30-12h30. Bâtiment de l’EHESS du Campus Condorcet, salle A302, 2 cours des Humanités – 93330 Aubervilliers

Résumé :

In line with Boris Groys’ seminal work Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin (1988), I propose reading North Korea as a total work of art, where, paraphrasing Groys, reality is staged as a unified multimedia creation that engulfs and absorbs the spectator.’ Talking about North Korea as a total work of art evokes the spectre of Baudrillard’s simulacra, but equally speaks to Debord’s notion of the society of the spectacle. Analysing the stage shows that have come to dominate cultural life under Kim Jong Un, I pay particular attention to the blurring of the divide between spectacle and spectator, and focus on the performativity of the spectacle as bodily experience.

Realism and Reality in North Korean Art

Intervention dans le cadre du séminaire « Histoire de la culture visuelle de l’Asie Orientale », animé par Michela Bussotti, Alice Bianchi et Anne Kerlan

  • Mercredi 1er février, 15h30-17h30. Bâtiment de l’EHESS du Campus Condorcet, salle A302, 2 cours des Humanités – 93330 Aubervilliers

Résumé :

What can North Korean art tell us about North Korea? This apparently simple question opens onto a number of fundamental epistemological issues central to art history, cultural studies and philosophy. North Korean art developed as a loot on the tree of socialist realism. Being a form of realist art, there is the inherent claim that it seeks to represent reality. That North Korean art speaks to reality also follows from the fact that art has an explicitly didactic role and seeks to affect people into becoming upright citizens. Evgeny Dobrenko’s and Petre Petrov’s reflections on Soviet socialist realism provide interesting insights into understanding the formative role of art in reading (if not constituting) reality in North Korea.