The politics of persuasion: Work Team Contest


I was admiring Kim Hung II’s fascinating mosaic Work Team Contest when a thought struck me. It’s an interesting opportunity to look at the legacy of Socialist Realism with the work of Mansudae Art Studio in the DPRK (North Korea).

What struck me about Work team contest was that if you remove the brass band and floral arrangements, the image of workers celebrating efficiency targets isn’t all that different from the workplace imagery of white-collar corporate culture we’re a little more familiar with in the West.

Work team contest

Kim Hung Il, Artist, North Korea (DPRK) b.1965 / Kang Yong Sam, Artist, North Korea (DPRK) b.1956 / Work team contest 2009 / Glass tessera tiles / 350 x 570cm / Purchased 2009. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The artists

WATCH NOW: Mansudae Art Studio (North Korea)

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Detail of Work team contest 2009

Do a Google Image Search for “corporate” or “business” and you’ll see what I mean. Managers pointing at whiteboards, fit and forward-looking young professionals, a sense of success and future-building — it’s all there. Even the composition is the same. The only major difference is that the colour red has been replaced with a distinct shade of blue.

It would be a mistake to say that ‘juche’ communism and liberal capitalism offer similar forms of social organisation. But the images used to ‘sell’ them do share unexpected patterns. In the marketplace of ideologies, it seems that little changes when it comes to the politics of images. There may even be a subliminal influence.

Certain aesthetic formations are adjusted to suit the widest possible range of political positions, even extending to those modes of communication we think of as apolitical, such as advertising and news media. The history of propaganda art certainly offers interesting perspectives on the visual culture of the present.

Details of Work team contest 2009

Delve deeper

Curator Nicholas Bonner takes a tour of work from The Mansudae Art Studio in The 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT6).

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Feature image detail: Kim Hung Il and Kang Yong Sam Work team contest 2009

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