UPDATE AT 2015 KST: This article has been amended to reflect North Korean state media’s Monday afternoon coverage of the event.
North Korea unveiled what appears to be the country’s first official portrait of leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday, in footage of a DPRK-Cuba summit published by Cuba’s Prensa Latina over the weekend and DPRK state media on Monday.
Coverage of the arrival of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport on Sunday showed the North used the occasion to display a formal portrait of Kim alongside that of the Cuban leader.
The move could represent a major step forward for the young leader’s personality cult: the formal portrait of the leader in North Korea plays a major role in DPRK state propaganda.
Pictures of the country’s late former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hang in almost every household and public space.
Typically produced by Pyongyang’s Mansudae Arts Studio, strict rules are reported to govern their presentation and maintenance.
While photographic portraits of Kim Jong Un have appeared at official state events and in official propaganda in the past, and unofficial portraits of the leader have been presented by sympathetic “friendship” groups, the emergence of a new painted portrait Sunday could hint at a major development in the young DPRK leader’s cult of personality.
One expert said the move hinted at a broader recent trend in the DPRK to elevate the status of Kim to that of his father and grandfather.
“It appears that Kim Jong Un is now getting a portrait for display in public,” Peter Ward, an NK Pro analyst, said. “This is important as it symbolically makes him an equal to his father and grandfather in this area.”
“Having been in charge for six years, he is now a leader with his own policy, style and ideas, and no longer merely a loyal follower of what has gone before,” Ward continued. “This is another change in agitprop display to reflect that.”
One frequent visitor to the North agreed that the development was noteworthy.
“Never seen anything like that before,” Simon Cockerell, General Manager of Koryo Tours, told NK News. “Wonder if it’s the start of something.”
NK News Director Andrei Lankov wrote in his 2015 book “North of the DMZ” that an official portrait of Kim Jong Il, then Kim Il Sung’s heir designate, began unofficially being produced as early as the the late 1970s and began officially appearing in public only a decade later.
Speaking on Monday, Lankov said it would still likely be a few more years before the Kim Jong Un portrait became as ubiquitous as those of his predecessors.
“It’s not necessarily the beginning of [North Korea] putting portraits everywhere, though sooner or later they will do it,” he said. “This does not necessarily mean it has begun.”
“This might be the portrait we will see in every office, every building… though we should wait and see.”
The unveiling of the portrait represents one of the first major steps towards the expansion of Kim’s cult of personality since last year, when it was announced that a new monument to Kim Jong Un, as well as his father and grandfather, would be constructed at the historically-significant Mount Paektu.
“This seems to be perfectly normal stage of development, since it generally follows the pattern established by personality cults of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, especially of the latter,” Fyodor Tertitskiy, an NK Pro analyst, said at the time.
Featured image: KCTV