Asia Scope

Exhibit Bonds China & Taiwan – North Korea Not Yet in the Game

A new exhibition at Taipei’s National Palace Museum has optimists talking progress over Taiwan-China relations. Last year, China surpassed the US to become Taiwan’s second largest importer. But this major art collaboration goes beyond the merely practical and economic. The exhibit, Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times opened yesterday and runs until early next year.

Meanwhile, Chinese PM Wen Jiabao’s 3-day visit to North Korea has also sparked speculation of improving relations between these two countries, though here I think we can assume that there are no cooperative art projects on the horizon.

Like everything else in the DPRK, the art scene is a mystery to outsiders. According to Canadian Content, all artists in North Korea are registered members of the Korean Artists’ Federation and receive monthly salaries to produce a certain number of works. The KWP Central Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Department and the Culture and Arts Department reportedly control all art in North Korea and forbid abstract or conceptual art. There’s a national art exhibition every year.

And according to some sources, the philosophy of Juche guides all North Korean art. Prior to 1970, Juche limited themes to those portraying the General, the military, the creation of socialism, national pride etc. Later, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is said to have stated that, ‘The idea of describing nature in a socialist country is to promote patriotism, heighten the national pride and confidence of the public…’ prompting a huge increase in the number of oil painted natural landscapes.

North Korean media also has in the past reported a cultural renaissance under Kim Jong-Il. And Kim is said to be an avid consumer of Western popular culture as evidenced in a CNN report some time back claiming Kim has a collection of approximately 20,000 videotapes, including the full James Bond movie series.