A mere 120 miles separates Pyongyang from Seoul, and yet the social and political realities of North and South Korea could hardly be further apart. However, even as the Korean Demilitarized Zone stands as an enduring testimony to the violence wrought by the Cold War, the art produced on either side of the 38th parallel has not always neatly corresponded with this bifurcation or passively reflected its effects. During the late Cold War period, palpable convergences emerged between the work of North Korean state propaganda artists and that of South Korean activist artists associated with the ‘minjung’ (literally, “people’s”) democratization movement.
This talk examines how North and South Korean artists represented acts of protest during the 1980s and early 1990s, focusing specifically on art produced in the aftermath of the 1980 Kwangju Uprising, as well as works picturing the South Korean student activist Lim Su-kyung following her illicit journey to North Korea in 1989, when she participated in the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students. State-sponsored artists in North Korea and ‘minjung’ artists in South Korea, I argue, shared an investment in memorializing and mythologizing youth culture across the Korean peninsula, framing student activists as the vanguard of reunification efforts.