The politics of persuasion
Monday 9 July 2012 Share FacebookDelicious Email

Kim Hung II, North Korea b. 1965 | Work team contest 2009 | Glass tessera tiles | Purchased 2009. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

I was admiring Kim Hung II’s fascinating mosaic Work Team Contest when a thought struck me.

The work is part of the show ‘Propaganda?, which recently opened on level 3 at GOMA, right next door to our recent acquisition Ride the Caspian. It’s an interesting opportunity to look at the legacy of Socialist Realism and various other forms of propaganda art through a few collection works. The exhibition moves from straightforward propaganda, as with the work of Mansudae Art Studio in the DPRK (North Korea), right through to more ironic takes, with a particular focus on Australia, and East and Southeast Asia.

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.

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.

This is something that plays out as I look across the show — 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. Indeed, a number of contemporary artists in the show take this as their starting point. The history of propaganda art certainly offers interesting perspectives on the visual culture of the present. 

‘Propaganda?’ considers the varied approaches of politically motivated art. From the traditional forms of painting and sculpture, to mass media such as prints, posters, banners and photography, art has often been used to express the ideology of the state, promote the views of specific groups, criticise the status quo or document events. The exhibition features a number of works in socialist realist styles from China, Vietnam and North Korea (DPRK), as well as print and photo-based works that utilise text, collage and documentary imagery. You can view the exhibition until 21 October 2012.