Diplomatic Gifts and Cold War Strategies: The Role of North Korea’s Overseas Art Studios in Egyptian Memorial Culture

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2023

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Abstract

The dissertation explores the artistic and cultural histories behind Egyptian national monuments and museums that were built and renovated by North Korean artists and architects. Archival materials from the American University in Cairo, Seoul National University, and the North Korean Research Center are used to contextualize these cultural sites within the broader history of diplomatic exchanges between the two nations. Such exchanges are framed as part of the international Cold War and inter-Korean competition. By piecing together resources such as government documents, artworks, and media coverage, the dissertation provides a history of exchanged aesthetics, ideologies, and methods of memorialization connecting the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East. The dissertation attends to questions of representation and national identity as they pertain to national monuments, museums, and cultural sites.

The dissertation begins by outlining the cultural and political developments between Egypt with North and South Korea from 1956 to present, complicating Cold War as a concept and extending beyond outdated geographic and temporal limitations. Then the dissertation uses Egyptian news coverage to trace the history of three buildings resulting from Hosni Mubarak’s 1983 diplomatic tour in Asia; the Japanese-funded Cairo Opera House (1988), the North Korean-designed October War Panorama (1989), and the Chinese-built Cairo Conference Center (1989). Next, the study theorizes the function of North Korean museums in Egypt and questions the implications of importing nationalistic aesthetics. Subsequent analysis addresses paintings by North Korean artists in the Egyptian National Military Museum that take inspiration from international films set in Egypt through the ages, from antiquity to the colonial era. The dissertation concludes with an exploration of the relationship between North Korean Juche ideology and the display of diplomatic gifts at the International Friendship Exhibition.

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Bergendorff, Karlee (2023). Diplomatic Gifts and Cold War Strategies: The Role of North Korea’s Overseas Art Studios in Egyptian Memorial Culture. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27682.

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