Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

THE FUNERAL OF KIM JONG-IL

by David Greenhalgh

15 Feb 2012

Kitsch: A form of art considered an inferior, tasteless copy of art of recognised value

Inside a darkened room, Kwan Kee-Yung sits watching “With a smile and a song”, the musical number from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He is rudely interrupted by a colleague at the door.

Kwan! Have you heard? The Dear Leader is dead!

Kim?? Dead?

A heart attack, just a few hours ago on his train, leaving Pyongyang. You know what this means right?

Kwan stares blankly for a moment or two before a smile breaks across his face.

Really? Me??

Yep. Just like last time- you’ve been appointed head of funerary and mourning choreography.

Fabulous!

But…

But what?

It’s just his will states that you must make it better. A bit more… extravagant than his father’s funeral.

But… but Kim Il-Sung had the means and the money! We had the budget for what I envisioned. I’m afraid times are a bit too lean to do anything close to what Dad got. Plus I’m getting old myself. Don’t you have another Creative Supervisor to Public Emotion to do it instead?

Look here! [pulls official communications from a folder] paragraph 7… Il-Sung got one hundred clarinet-playing paratroopers and one thousand weeping school girls. The Mansudea art factory produced a fifty metre tall portrait of him for the official procession!

Enough! Enough! I know what I did in 1994. It was my masterwork!

[Kwan Kee-Jung swivels in his chair to resume watching. Small deer, rabbits and birds are comforting Snow White]

Well, Jong-Il wants double that! You know he hated living in the shadow of Il-Sung. His kid just can’t wait to be king and will have you in front of the firing squad if you make him look even a morsel inferior to his father. You have two days to choreograph this. We can’t keep the corpse on ice any longer than that.

Leave!! I must think in silence!

Kwan reaches down beside his chair for The Dear Leader’s published work on the art of movie directing as the opening musical number from The Lion King bathes the bunker with a kaleidoscope of colour.

[sobbing] Kim loved this movie…

48 hours later, the isolated, hermit state of North Korea holds the biggest funeral the world has ever seen. Diana may have had Sir Elton, but Kim had it all: truly the pinnacle of the genre of Totalitarian kitsch. Kwan Kee-Jung oversees the proceeding through a headset microphone.

Cue the portrait hearse!

Kwan’s colleague from the day before enters flanked by dignitaries and military men. Tension ripples around the control room.

Kwan! You’ve astounded us all! This is truly a masterwork! How on earth did you get that fifty metre tall portrait of Kim completed in a single day!

We had to retouch the old Kim Il-Sung oil painting. It’s still a little wet but nobody seems to notice right?

Well you’d hope not. Transitioning to Kim Jong-un is enough of a task in itself.

[into headset] Cue hysterical crowds!

The room falls silent to watch the surging crowd wailing, arms outstretched towards the hearse as it pulls through the powdery white snow.

Such catharsis! Magical! Fabulous! And the clarinets are really pulling on the heartstrings!

But that’s not all- Just you wait for my piece de resistance!

But Kwan you’ve already outdone yourself- you’ve even bred a pedigree flower in his name! A beautiful, communist-red Kimjongilia.

[into headset] Cue mourning animals!

Where do you get your ideas from Kwan?

The next few days saw events of truly Disney-esque proportions. Birds held vigil under portraits of the beloved, mountains glowed and fire spelled his name across the setting sun to the orchestral rolls of thunder. A single Manchurian crane mourned below the statue of the great leader and magpies gathered in curious formations, filling the trees with a smile and a song.