From Traditional Dress to Military Uniform: Sartorial Transformation of North Korean Women

From Traditional Dress to Military Uniform: Sartorial Transformation of North Korean Women

Suk-Young Kim - Assistant Professor of Theater, University of California, Santa Barbara

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 119, Political Science Building See map
8 Prospect Place
New Haven, CT 6511

North Korean leaders have issued numerous fashion statements with an intention to promote fashion as a national project meant to groom ideal corporeality. While many other socialist regimes glorified masculine clothing as preferred means to represent revolutionized women, North Korean fashion has continuously explored and expressed various degrees of femininity which seemingly contradicted astringent revolutionary spirit. The varying visual representations of traditional femininity and state organized socialist ideals, which often equals masculinity, collide in North Korea so as to mark a unique sense of fashion for women clearly distinguished from its closest neighbors—the PRC, the former Soviet Union, and South Korea.

This talk explores the representation of ideal female body in North Korea by examining women’s fashion manifested in visual media, such as stage productions, films, magazine illustrations, paintings and posters. Visual media in North Korea is not merely a consumerist object, but by far the most important form of communication. Their functions are wide in scope—they educate, entertain, and mobilize people. In a society where ideals shape reality itself, the way in which visual images are coordinated and circulated is far from being accidental. I argue that in North Korea, the images of women on stage and screen function as models to emulate, thus imposing ideal bodily practices onto performance viewers. Examining the dress codes of female protagonists on stage and screen illuminates how the North Korean regime set out to craft ideal female body as constantly negotiating revolutionary masculinity and traditional femininity.

Suk-Young Kim is Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her research has been acknowledged by the International Federation for Theatre Research New Scholar’s Prize (2004), the American Society for Theater Research Fellowship (2006), and the Library of Congress Kluge Fellowship (2006-7). Her articles have appeared in Theatre Research International and The Drama Review. She is currently completing a book project titled Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea, which explores how the state produced propaganda performances intersect with everyday life practice in North Korea. Another book project, Long Road Home: A Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor (coauthored with Kim Yong) is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.