Since 1948, North Korea had closed itself off from the western world since Kim Il-Sung become the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. North Korea had been, and still is, an enigma to western society. This is why when a few select artist visited London in 2014 to display art from Mansudae where North Korea’s fine art scene resides, the general public were very curious as to what they would bring.
With the government isolating the country, art is one of the few, if not the only, industries allowed out of the country. There is even a website! These art mainly depicting the government leaders and military in heroic scenes or poses.
While personally, I think the most interesting painting depict scenes of “everyday life” in North Korea showing happy families or large celebrations, these picturesque scenes show a North Korea that is meant to be seen by the western world while the reality is really a started population in dire poverty.
Song Byeok is an artist who defected. After his mother and sister died of starvation and his father drowned while trying to bring back illegal supplies from China, Song was detained in a prison camp where he endured beating and finger amputations until his escape in 2002.
Song still paints propaganda that he had to memorize in North Korea, but his most famous painting is one of Marilyn Monroe with the head of Kim Jong Il. However the propaganda pieces tell the most about life within North Korea specifically a piece which reads “Will you live as free people or slaves? Let’s lift up the red banner of revolution until the end” which Song states “The irony is, they are slaves.”
By Joshua Mohn