Hey, party people

David Cotner is a contributing writer to LA Weekly.

Propaganda IS one of the only forms of artistic expression in which representation equals endorsement. Fraught with exclamation points and the color red, this stunning volume of art collector David Heather’s collection of North Korean propaganda posters, edited by Koen de Ceuster, portrays an even rarer form of artistic expression: a representation of representation that equals endorsement. Of course, any review is a representation of a representation of a representation, but that does not necessarily equal endorsement -- triple removes and the Droste effect notwithstanding.

A socialist realism of clarity, compactness and delicacy -- tenets crystallized by North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il -- informs these pictures. The exhortations accompanying the images are equally concise: “More milk and meat, by positively expanding grassland!” “Here and there in the country, let’s build more small-scale power plants!” “Bombing suicide squad, forward!”, “Socialism is invincible!”, even, “Let’s popularize basketball!”

“North Korean Posters” is a book that comes at a deeply auspicious time. With the easing of U.S. sanctions and the discreet charm of the Internet, it won’t be long before images of gleaming patriots are tested by the perception of freedoms in the world outside and the withering onslaught of capitalism -- and all the fast food and graffiti that that implies. North Korea is the last country of its kind in terms of fervent isolation and nationalism; these priceless examples of agitprop exist simultaneously as history lessons and time capsules. Ironically, as curiosity and avarice congeal into the wax of capitalism, posters like these become coveted collector’s items -- trading for sizable sums that to the propagandists who created these fierce and stoic artifacts would represent a psychological disembowelment -- and be vastly more effective than any four-color, four-story call to arms.