Three concrete sculptures against the sun
Dark tourism,  DPRK,  Photographing Public Art

The Monument to Party Foundation

Three enormous fists reach skywards, dominating the cityscape at the end of a long grassy avenue. Linked by a massive concrete belt they loom over visitors and passers-by. However this monument makes a statement not just through its grand scale but also the details of its design. This is a story told in numbers and in symbols.

I’ve shared photos of the Monument to Party Foundation in Pyongyang several times before. But I’ve never yet told the full story of its construction and design. Let me rectify that for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge.

The monument was erected to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party, the only legal political party in North Korea. It is made of granite and depicts three clenched fists, one holding a hammer, one a sickle and one a writing brush. These constitute the party symbol, representing the three branches of the party: industrial workers, farmers and intellectuals.

Numeric symbolism

As with so many North Korean monuments, the design is full of numeric symbolism. It stands 50 metres high, one metre for each year of the party, and a 50 metre belt surrounds the three fists, symbolising ‘the single hearted-unity of the leader, party and people’. The slogan on the belt reads: ‘Long live the Workers Party of Korea, which organizes and guides all victories for the Korean people!’

Three concrete sculptures with a concrete circle as a base
The Monument to Party Foundation

The pedestal on which it stands is 70 metres across, symbolising the fact that the party’s history stretches back a further twenty years to 1925, when the anti-Japanese ‘Down with Imperialism Union’ was born. The belt has 216 blocks, and its inside diameter is 42 metres; together these figures symbolise the purported date of birth of Kim Jong Il, 16 February 1942 (note that most sources outside the DPRK give 1941 as the year of his birth).

One thing that struck me in Pyongyang was the careful city planning that created wide vistas linking the main monuments. And here at the Monument to Party Foundation we saw that at its best. The monument is neatly aligned with the Mansudae Grand Monument, where the statues of the Great Leaders stand. It is not a coincidence that Kim Jong Il was born on 16 February, or 2.16 as it is written here, and that these two monuments are 2.16 kilometres apart!

Relief carving of a group of people with a city scene beyond
The view from inside the belt
Relief carving of a group of people with a city scene beyond, and a distant monument circled in red
In case you didn’t spot them!

Inside the belt

The concrete belt that encircles the fists is lined with three large bronze bas-reliefs. These tell the history of the Workers Party. Firstly, the revolutionary struggle against the Japanese and the foundation of the party. Secondly, the development of the Juche idea. And thirdly, progress towards a self-reliant country.

In my photos above you can see part of the second of these, with a worker, farmer, intellectual, soldier and a student against the backdrop of the party flag.

Relief carving of a young man holding a book
The student

To their left a young soldier is handed the flame of the Juche idea by a veteran of the fight.

Relief carving of a soldier holding a flaming torch
Holding the flame of the Juche idea

Part of the first one shows revolutionary fighters in the Mount Paektu area, with so-called ‘slogan trees’ exhorting them.

Relief carving of of soldiers in fur hats in a wood
The revolutionary fighters

In the third we see the struggle to realize global independence, the desire for reunification and the advance of socialist construction under the torch of Juche. The inscription on it reads: ‘Let us defend independence!’

Relief carving of men in overalls, one with a book and one a stick
The struggle to realize global independence
Relief carving of a man holding a book and a woman with a sheaf of grain
‘Let us defend independence!’

Looking up from here the three huge symbols, hammer, sickle and writing brush, towered above us.

Three concrete sculptures overhead
Looking up

On the far side of the monument we could take photos from a different perspective. See if you can spot the people in my photo below to get a better sense of its scale!

Three concrete sculptures at the end of a tree-lined park

Some of these photos may look familiar from those earlier posts I mentioned. However I think they are worth reposting to complete the picture of this extraordinary (yet so typically North Korean) monument.

I visited Pyongyang in 2019


  • leightontravels

    Some of these photos ring a bell from previous posts, but I very much enjoyed reading the story. North Korea remains utterly fascinating to me and this is yet another post you’ve provided that deepens that interest. Wide vistas indeed, thanks for marking the supreme leaders, I actually may have missed them! As I read this and looked through your photos I’ve been listening to Damon Albarn’s (Blur) magical ‘Pyongyang’. It’s a wonderful song and I wonder if any of the lyrics resonate with you on any level.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Leighton, I’m really glad that you find my North Korea writings of interest. I had to go back to the lyrics of that song to check as it’s years since I heard it. The opening lines suggest he stayed in the ‘other’ tourist hotel to ours. There are two usually used by tour groups (or rather, that were used as the country is still closed post-Covid). The Koryo is where we stayed, but the other, the Yanggakdo, is on an island in the river. We went there for lunch and visited the top floor bar from where you do look down at the small island. The reference to ‘perfect avenues’ is also spot on but I don’t remember any cherry trees – but then we did visit in September!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha yes, not really a shy country I would say, although it has a bit of a inferiority complex I believe, which these monuments help to conceal 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I do know what you mean, I can’t argue that these works are aesthetically pleasing and certainly can’t admire the philosophies that drive their construction, and yet I have a weird attraction to them!

  • grandmisadventures

    I think it is always interesting to see how intentionally art is created to be used as propaganda. In an art history class I took awhile ago we talked about how distance, facial expression, positioning, and color were all used to influence a desire of conformity to the viewer. Such subtle influences but that really get the point across.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      The artists in North Korea, all employed by the state of course, are highly skilled in conveying all those propaganda messages through their work – so much so that they get commissions from other countries which bring much-needed foreign currency into the DPRK.

  • Graham Stephen

    Wow, what an incredibly subtle and understated monument! 😉

    Nicely captured Sarah.


  • margaret21

    These monuments are hard to like, but I have to admire the work and thought behind these – er – monumental constructions. Thanks for giving us the full story, complete with mathematical equations 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      See, I must be odd, because in a way I DO like them! I have a weird fascination for socialist realism as there are always so many stories told in them, and I find it interesting to unpick the truth of the events portrayed alongside the propaganda messaging behind the decisions to portray them 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Kellye 😊 I’m fascinated by this socialist realism style both as an art form and also its propaganda purposes. North Korea has perfected both aspects!

  • Marie

    The three fists with tools are huge – your photos do justice to the scale of the monument. Not many of us will ever get to see the monument in person I think so thanks for the info….

  • Natalie

    Sarah, Thank you for your PPAC contribution. I enjoyed reading your post and beautiful pictures. Most significant monuments in Asia are full of symbolism. I appreciate your clear explanation of the symbolism of this monument.

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