DPRK Art Flash!


A few months ago, I touched on the topic of art in North Korea and more recently also got in touch with Gabriella Coslovich at The Age, who reported (‘North Korean artists not welcome, their ‘propaganda’ is’) on the subject after attending the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane. I was lucky enough to get Gabriella to share some exclusive thoughts with us on North Korean art, its legitimacy and the issues of propaganda and censorship: 

Do you think that art created in countries like North Korea, where there’s less freedom and opportunity for it to flourish, is possibly of lesser quality? (This would be a matter of simple statistics-the less there is to choose from.)

I can’t say I know everything there is to know about Iranian or North Korean or Cambodian or Burmese art, but I can say that the works I saw (at the Asia-Pacific Triennial) did not strike me as being low quality.

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Furthermore, I learnt about the distinct place art has in North Korea. Young artists are chosen from around the country and if they are good enough invited to study at the Pyongyang University of Fine Arts where they are required to study for a minimum of six to eight years. Apparently, great emphasis is placed on the development of their craft and skill through the main areas of study including oil painting, sculpture, mural painting, the industrial arts and more.

And yes, they create propaganda, as well as images instructing children about respecting their parents and North Korean custom. So I do not want to gloss over the realities of life in North Korea or condone the regime–but the fact that this is first time that North Korean art is being shown like this in Australia and I think it is important in helping to humanise the people of North Korea.

Is state-sponsored propaganda art really art? What do you think?

Propaganda and art are not mutually exclusive! Social realism is a known art style that has come out of the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and even from the labour movement in Australia. Social realism is an artistic style or language that is deployed at certain times and is part of art history–for example, the Soviet social realist posters. Having said that, not all the art in the North Korean section is propaganda either.

What are your own thoughts about the North Korean artists being forbidden to attend the show?

Personally, I think it’s disappointing that the artists were not allowed to attend the show, especially after they were given visas by their own regime. Their art is on display, so what is the great fear in them flying here and talking about it? As you would have read in my article: North Korean nationals are forbidden from visiting Australia because of their country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. To make an exception for these artists ‘would have sent an inappropriate message to the North Korean regime,’ says the official statement by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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