Guyanese Mass Games: spectacles that “moulded” the nation in a North Korean way
Vicki Sung-yeon KWON
ABSTRACT This paper examines the Guyanese Mass Games, multi-media spectacles of visual and performing arts initiated by the leader of the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana and performed by Guyanese artists and youth aided by North Korean artists. North Korea and Guyana staged the games as the postcolonial and anti-imperialist expression of a newly established socialist regime in the global South in the context of the Cold War. Staged annually from 1980 to 1992 as part of the national day celebrations, they sparked debate, antagonism, and ethnic and political conflict in Guyana. The encounter of North Korean artists and Guyanese artists resulted in the new cultural tradition of the Guyanese Mass Games, which incorporated elements of Guyana’s local culture into the form of the North Korean Mass Games. The paper expands the method of “inter-referencing” to incorporate a cross-continental dimension to analyze the cultural event of the Mass Games in North Korea and Guyana. The analysis in this paper is grounded in archival materials relating to the Guyanese Mass Games, such as sketch paintings, choreography books, photos, and newspaper articles, and examines how the representation of the people and land in the Mass Games captures the ambivalent character of decolonization and modernization projects in the socialist regime of Guyana.
KEYWORDS: Mass Games; North Korea; Guyana; performance; choreography; archive; Arirang; Mashramani
Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon is an art historian and curator, currently a PhD candidate in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta. Kwon’s doctoral research explores socially engaged art and public participation in transnational global contact zones facilitated by artists from East Asia. Her dissertation is tentatively titled Connections in Friction: Participatory Art of East Asian Artists in Contact Zones. Kwon completed her BA and MA in art history at the University of Toronto and worked as an art administrator, curator, and researcher for non-profit art and cultural organizations. Kwon’s publication includes a journal article, “The Sonyosang Phenomenon: Nationalism and Feminism Surrounding the ‘Comfort Women’ Statue” in Korean Studies 43. Her recent exhibitions include Designing Connection in Friction, at Harcourt House, Edmonton (2018), Mass and Individual: The Guyanese Mass Games at Arko Art Center, Seoul (2016), and Immune Nations at UNAIDS Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and Galleri KiT in Trondheim, Norway (2017).