Art & History
A Civilization of Peace:
Korea's Past, Present, and Future
Three Kingdoms, Silla Unification, Goryeo, and Joseon Dynasties
1: Three Kingdoms, Unification
2: Seokguram Grotto
Top left: Seosan Carved Buddha Triad. Baekje Kingdom. (c. 6th century).
Bottom left: Seokguram Grotto interior. 8th century, Silla Dynasty.
Right: Bulkagasa Temple, part of the Seokguram Grotto complex. 8th century, Silla Dynasty.
Buddhism, originating in India and spreading through China, formatively influenced the trajectory of Korean civilization, and Korea made many significant contributions of its own to the Pan-Asian religion. This was especially the case after the peninsula’s unification under the Silla dynasty, which sponsored efforts to establish Buddhist monasteries and monuments, preserve Buddhist scriptures, and advance and disseminate Korean Buddhism among the masses. The Seokguram (석굴암) Grotto-Temple Complex is an impressive example of a Silla-era public work, dedicated to peace and stability under the banner of Korean Buddhism: its pristine temple architecture, detailed stone sculptures, and precise mathematical proportions of the inner chamber, all carved into the side of a mountain, are a remarkable achievement for engineering, architecture, and artistry for Buddhist and Korean art at large.
3: Tripitaka Koreana, Goryeo Dynasty
A section of a printed scroll of the original Tripitaka Koreana, originally completed in 1087 CE by carving Buddhist scriptures in Chinese characters onto over 81,000 ritually treated woodblocks.
Monk pulling one of the ritually treated woodblock with carved Buddhist scripture verses, which would have been inked and then printed onto paper or silk scrolls for dissemination of the Buddhist teachings.
4: Joseon Dynasty — Hangul and Written Language; Calligraphy and Print
Calligraphy in Chinese script. Prince Anpyeong. Ink on paper. Joseon Dynasty. 15th Century.
Life History and Sermon of Buddha Abstracted from Buddhist Scriptures (Seokbosangjeol). Printed book using metal moveable type featuring the newly invented Korean alphabetic script as well as Chinese characters. Prince Sejo. Joseon Dynasty. 1447.
5: Landscapes of the Joseon Dynasty
Jeong Seon (1676–1759). View of Inner Kumgang. c.1740s. Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). ink and light color on silk.
Japanese Occupation (1910-1945) and National Liberation
6: Japanese Occupation
Left: A photo of occupying Japanese soldiers in Korea, flanked by Korean peasants. Right: Korean students in a Japanese language class, c.1942. One line, at left, reads, “Why is Japan fighting right now?”
With the fall of the Joseon dynasty and the invasion and annexation of the Korean peninsula by the Japanese empire in 1910, the Japanese enforced dehumanizing colonial policies of coerced labor, exploitation of land and natural resources, banning of the use of Korean language, loyalty to the Japanese emperor, and worship of Japanese Shintoism, all in effort to denigrate Koreans’ millennia-old culture and forcibly assimilate Koreans into the Japanese sphere.
7: Resistance and the March 1st Movement
Women wearing traditional Korean hanbok garb, resisting Japanese colonialism and gathering in the streets during the 1919 March 1 Movement.
The ordinary people, all wearing white hanbok dressing, Gathering for declaration of independence from Japanese colonization in Seoul’s Pagoda park.
The March 1 movement of 1919 was an early resistance movement to shake off chains of Japanese colonization and declare independence from Japan, in a widely attended proclamation made in the Tapgol Park of Seoul, Korea. The movement drew from all segments of the Korean population,coming together as one to march peacefully for independence. It was met with brutal repression and massacres by the Japanese forces, whose rule would last until the end of WWII in 1945. However, Korean resistance would continue throughout these decades, planting seeds for the longer struggle for self-determination against imperialism which was to come in the future.
8: People’s Committees and Liberation
Peasants speaking for land reform in the midst of the period of the formation of People’s Committees across the peninsula, after the expulsion of the Japanese at the end of World War II.
Peasants marching with folk drums traditional to harvest festivals as part of the activities of the People’s Committees.
9: The Reteaching of Korean Language
Cards with Diagrams of Korean Alphabet Mouth Movements, for the mass literacy campaigns following Japanese colonialism and bans on the native Korean script. Yu Yeol, 1947.
Top left: Trucks crossing the 38th parallel, a division drawn on a map by two U.S. army colonels following Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in 1945.
Bottom left: Korean People's Army POWs being led to a prison camp in the south of Korea.
Right: High explosives rip through several spans of a railroad bridge outside Hamhung as United Nations forces blow up the bridge as part of their withdrawal to prevent its being used by Chinese Communists on December 19, 1950.
11: The Devastation of the War
B-26 Invaders bomb logistics depots in Wonsan, North Korea, 1951.
A mother with her baby wanders through the wreckage of Pyongyang after one of hundreds of bombing campaigns by the U.S. Air Force in Korea, which leveled cities and killed 20% of the population, according to Air Force General Curtis LeMay.
12: Women and Children in War
13: Anti-Communism: An Ideology of Murder
Top: The North Korean capital city of Pyongyang in 1964 after reconstruction.
Bottom: The city in 1953, after an estimated 75 percent of it was destroyed by US bombing.
Women workers rebuilding Pyongyang after the Korean War, during which the majority of the city was razed to the ground by American bombing.
Top left: Martin Luther King Jr. marching against the Vietnam War.
Bottom left: Anti-poverty march after the assassination King in 1968.
Right: Paul Robeson spoke at “Hands off Korea” rallies opposing America’s role in the Korean War, eventually appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee and getting stripped of his passport by the State Department and banned from traveling abroad.
The cover of an edition of a children’s magazine, titled “Youth Literature,” featuring short stories, plays, and poems, is decorated with an intergenerational procession led prominently by children carrying the North Korean flag.
A women’s magazine titled “Women of North Korea” (edition from August 1955) cover depicts a Korean woman in traditional hanbok garb alongside a Soviet woman, demonstrating the significance of women’s organizations and mobilization in the DPRK, as well as the involvement of North Korean women in world democratic movements.
A monthly magazine (this edition dating to November 1961) dedicated to the eponymous Chollima post-Korean War rebuilding initiative named after the mythical Korean winged horse. A referencing an iconic Pyongyang monument of the same subject is painted in an ink wash style on its cover.
“Democracy, that inevitable end of all government, faces eternal paradox. In all ages, the vast majority of men have been ignorant and poor, and any attempt to arm such classes with political power brings the question: Can Ignorance and Poverty rule? If they try to rule, their success in the nature of things must be halting and spasmodic, if not absolutely nil; and it must incur the criticism and raillery of the wise and the well-to-do. On the other hand, if the poor, unlettered toilers are given no political power, and are kept by exploitation in poverty, they will remain submerged unless rescued by revolution; and a philosophy will prevail, teaching that the submergence of the mass is inevitable and is on the whole best, not only for them, but for the ruling classes.
— W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction
The Scenery in front of Daedongmun. Oil painting by Mun Hak Su, North Korea (1955).
The Washing Place. Painting by Park Su Keun, South Korea (1954).
Top Right: A Worker. Choe Chang-ho. Chosonhwa ink on rice paper painting. (2014)
Top left: A construction scene. Artist and date unknown.
Bottom left: Our Spokesperson. Print by In Seongjin. (2014).
Right: Autumn in Anbyon. Print by Kim Kuk Po (1999).
30: Moon Ik Hwan: A Fool for Christ and Leader of Conscience in the South Korean Struggle for Democracy, Peace, and Reunification
Reverend Moon Ik Hwan's Poetry
Sleeptalk That Isn’t Sleeptalk
잠꼬대 아닌 잠꼬대
Union World 2. Woodcut print by South Korean minjung artist Hong Song-Dam (1989).
“To develop a powerful struggle for national reunification, our compatriots in the United States must solidly unite. There are now over one million Koreans in the United States, and that is a greater number than that of Koreans in Japan. If the Koreans in the United States closely unite, they will be able to make a great contribution to hastening national reunification. If over one million Koreans in that country demand that the US government can support the proposal for national reunification through federation, they can produce good results.”
— Kim Il Sung, “On the Need for the Koreans in the United States to Unite and Step Up the Movement for National Reunification,” a talk to Koreans from the United States in 1993, as “Team Spirit 93” US-SK joint military exercises were being staged.
North Korean artist Kim Sunghee’s “Bongsan Talchum” is an ink and color painting, annotated with lines of writing, depicting a traditional Korean masked dance rooted in shamanistic, animistic traditions to symbolize supernatural or natural forces, demonstrating the preservation of traditional literati ink painting and calligraphy dating to the Joseon era in contemporary North Korea.
Pyongyang in Spring. Painting by DPRK artists Jo Won Nam and Ri Myong Chol (2021).