What is it about?

This essay examines the artist and art educator Pen Varlen (1916-1990) and his vital role in transplanting Soviet Socialist Realism into North Korea between 1953 and 1954. This study demonstrates how Pen (a visitor from the Soviet Union) and his colleagues at the Pyongyang College of Arts contributed to facilitating the Sovietization of North Korean art and simultaneously the nationalization of Soviet art in the postwar period.

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Why is it important?

I take into consideration Soviet multiculturalism, a crucial historical factor that many scholars have overlooked in discussing international Socialist Realism. This article demonstrates how the transnational movement of Soviet Socialist Realism was attributable to Soviet nationality policy and orientalism.


This paper developed from my talk at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea on March 12, 2016. I am grateful to curator Park Hyesung at MMCA for inviting me to Seoul. My special thanks go to Moon Youngdai, Pen Olga in Russia, and Prof. Hae-Young Kim at Duke University for their generous support.

Dr Victoria Young Ji Lee
State University of New York (Korea-FIT)

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This page is a summary of: Building North Korean Art: Pen Varlen/Pyŏn Wŏllyong and Ethnic Networks amid the Cold War, Art In Translation, October 2020, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/17561310.2021.1899432.
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