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.
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!’
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!
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.
To their left a young soldier is handed the flame of the Juche idea by a veteran of the fight.
Part of the first one shows revolutionary fighters in the Mount Paektu area, with so-called ‘slogan trees’ exhorting them.
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!’
Looking up from here the three huge symbols, hammer, sickle and writing brush, towered above us.
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!
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