Art And Culture

North Korean Art Scene Might Be World’s Largest

North Korean Art Scene Might Be World’s LargestNorth Korean Art Scene Might Be World’s Largest

The heart of North Korea’s fine art scene is the Mansudae Art Studio, occupying a campus just north of Pyongyang, the capital.

With 700 artists and a staff of 4,000 working to produce paintings, posters and sculptures, Mansudae might be the world’s largest center for art production. It’s government-run, of course, and used primarily to churn out work extolling the state’s leaders and military, but the studio also accepts commissions from international clients. And recently, the western world has been able to catch glimpses of these artists’ works, reports.

For starters, Mansudae has a fully functioning website. The site’s webmaster, Italy-based Pier Luigi Cecioni, told Vice News that propaganda posters are actually easiest to sell, being cheap and “rather spectacular.” Most of the work is created in the vein of socialist realism, featuring scenes of ordinary people fulfilling themselves through work. Pastoral views are common, as well as traditional Korean styles.

A show in South Korea made headlines in January 2015 for featuring works by North Korean artists. Investor Frans Broersen lent part of his Kaesong Collection to the exhibition in Goyang - about ten miles south of the country’s demilitarized zone - featuring 150 works by 70 North Korean artists created between 1960 and 2008. The works, none political, were grouped by theme: landscape, portrait, animals and the seasons.

Broersen had an inkling there might be some art “of value” somewhere in the “secretive” nation.”

In November 2014, a select few Mansudae artists visited London for an art show at the city’s North Korean embassy. A few arrived early to paint street scenes.

“We decide what we want to paint. We have total artistic freedom,” 42-year-old Ho Jae Sung told the BBC of his usual repertoire back home. To The ‘Telegraph’, Ho said that London reminded him of Pyongyang, “full of beautiful things and beautiful people.”

  The Soul of Korea

Rare photographs of a North Korean cultural festival devoted to the nation’s military and government also went on display at a London gallery in 2013. Jeremy Hunter captured the event called Arirang, named after a traditional folk song representing “the soul of Korea,” on a special trip to Pyongyang. For Arirang, hundreds of buses carrying thousands of people arrive to fill the city’s May Day Stadium for a two-hour, 100,000-person synchronized dance show prepared over six months.

Even in the creative professions, however, life in North Korea is far from easy. Song Byeok, a former North Korean artist who defected to South Korea in 2002, told ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ that he’s been creating dissident art - including state propaganda he was forced to memorize.”

For all the impressive skill of its talented pool of artists, artistic freedom in North Korea might only be an optimistic myth. The arts education citizens receive is so highly controlled that when a western journalist told a North Korean artist his brushstrokes reminded him of Vincent van Gogh, the man said he didn’t know who that was. The only European painter he knew was Pablo Picasso.