North Korean Aesthetics within a Colonial Urban Form: Monuments to Independence and Democracy in Windhoek, Namibia

Roland, Stephanie | Stevens, Quentin

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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This paper examines two high-profile commemorative spaces in Namibia’s national capital, Windhoek, designed and constructed by North Korean state-owned enterprise Mansudae Overseas Projects. These commemorative projects illustrate the complex and evolving intersections between public art, architecture and urban form in this post-colonial context. They show how sites designed around heritage and collective identity intersect with urban space’s physical development and everyday use. The projects also illustrate the intersecting histories of three aesthetic lineages: German, South African and North Korean. This paper will show how these commemorative spaces embody North Korean urban space ideas while also developing new national symbols, historical narratives and identities within Windhoek’s urban landscape as part of independent Namibia’s nation-building. The monument’s ‘Socialist Realist’ aesthetic signals a conscious departure from the colonial and apartheid eras by the now-independent Namibian government.

This paper extends prior research focused on the symbolism of Mansudae’s monumental schemes by analysing these monuments’ design, placement, public reception and use within Windhoek as they relate to the city’s overall development since Namibia’s independence in 1990. By documenting the form, location and decision-making processes for the Mansudae-designed memorials in Windhoek and historical changes in their spatial and political context, the paper explores the interaction between North Korean political ideology and design approaches and Namibia’s democratic ambitions for city-making. The paper’s mapping analysis spatially compares the sculptural, architectural and urban design strategies of Mansudae’s additions to Windhoek’s City Crown (2010-14) to Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill Grand Monument (1972-2011), and Windhoek’s Heroes’ Acre (2002) to Mansudae’s earlier National Martyrs Cemetery outside Pyongyang (1975-85).