Muhn Beom-kang, a professor at Georgetown University and artist, said that he was “infatuated” with “Chosonhwa,” North Korean paintings, when he came across North Korean artwork in Washington D.C. in 2010. The 64-year-old artist said he was shocked because the paintings were not just about propaganda, contrary to stereotypes of North Korean art.
Since 2011, Muhn has visited Pyongyang nine times to research North Korean art, the outcomes of which he published into a book called “"Pyongyang Art: The Uncovering the Complex Layers of Chosonhwa (published by Seoul Selection).” The book unveils the North Korean art scene, which has been unknown to the world.
“Chosonhwa, oriental paintings from North Korea, has concentrated on developing unique ways of expression, even more so among socialist realism art,” said Muhn, who was interviewed by The Dong-A Ilbo on Tuesday. Chosonhwa takes a unique form as an ink and color painting that has been hardly externally influenced, different from South Korean or Chinese art. It has not been evaluated as artwork, as socialist realism art are not, but he thinks differently.
“The portraits are completely different from those in other cultures, using bold brushstrokes to capture the subtle expressions that reflect the mind. It was extremely poetic and lyrical,” he said. “The works of Lee Suk-ho (1904-1971), who inherited the literary paintings style of the Joseon Dynasty, is comparable to the works of Qi Baishi, one of the most well-known contemporary Chinese painters.”
Muhn had to endure many hardships, such as concerns of whether he would be able to safely complete his journey as well as economic difficulties. He felt compelled to view North Korean art as an artist. "When asked if I am a liberal or conservative, I say I am an artist," he said.