Arts and Culture
Despite (western) scholarship’s neglect of North Korea’s role and place in the Bandung conference, anti-imperialism and the Non-aligned Movement, a more complicated picture of postcolonial international relations emerges when we follow North Korea’s Third World cultural diplomacy. It is a limit case of anti-imperial, anti-colonial optimism in ‘darker nations’.
I focus on North Korea’s cultural construction projects in the 2000s that include statues, museums and public buildings in southern Africa and Southeast Asia. These contemporary Asia-Africa cooperative projects serve as rich sites to explore power politics, and re-articulation and co-optation of the Third World as an international political bloc, anti-imperialism, and people politics in the age of globalization. Against popular explanations that posit these cultural projects as economic ventures between foreign currency poor states, I argue that the fact that these cash poor governments invest in cultural, superficial dimensions of statecraft points to how aesthetics and the appearance of things mediate power and politics, and become a medium that forges relations between states and establishes international order.
Further, this study of North Korea’s Third World cultural diplomacy serves as an entry point to rethink, from an Asia-Africa axis of theorising, the international as a space of agency and what orders the international. In following liberation rather than colonial linkages, I privilege lateral moves and power negotiations, e.g. how North Korean-built museums, monuments and paintings in them are traces of not only visions from Pyongyang but also of local negotiations with international factors of which Pyongyang is just one.