Dictator Art - Kim Jong Il special
December 20 2011
Picture: Kim Jong Il Looking at Things
Regular readers will know that I'm strangely fascinated by totalitarian art. And it doesn't come much more interesting and bizarre than that in North Korea. All dictatorships rely on artists for propoganda, but probably none more so than the Hermit Kingdom. The lack of computers and printing equipment means that the state has to employ thousands of artists to produce the endless posters, sculptures and paintings needed to glorify Kim Jong Il's regime.
Almost all the posters one sees in North Korea, for example, are painted by hand, usually by artists sitting in large rooms endlessly copying the same master image, like a human printing press. North Korea probably has the highest proportion of artists per head of population in the world. The largest artistic centre is the Mansudae Art Studio*, which employs about 4,000 people, and was until his recent funny turn under 'the special guidance' of Kim Jong Il himself.
Not surprisingly, 'socialist realism' is the order of the day. Consequently most oil paintings tend to be highly detailed, colourful and stylised depictions of happy workers, or North Korea's often beautiful landscape. Much of it is technically quite proficient, if a little surreal.
There's quite a market for North Korean art in the west. If you think it will one day boom llike Chinese art (and you have no qualms about your money potentially helping to prop up the regime), then get in early and stock up before prices rise. One of the places you can be sure of buying the real thing is the Galleria, in Pall Mall, London. Their website explains why North Korean art is so unlike anything else:
Art from this hermit country has not yet been influenced by outside politics or normal world contemporary art trends. It is still pure North Korean art, artist have very little contact with other countries and their artwork is kept within the Juche political philosophy that they follow.
All artists in North Korea are State employees, registered as members of the Korean artists Federation (Misulga Tongmaeng) and receive monthly salaries for which they are expected to produce a number of works; some artists work on location others in the Art Studio. Both would be expected to work regularly and to have 2hour daily periods of study or discussion with regular reports and evaluations of their work.
There is no question of a solo exhibition in North Korea, but small group exhibitions do take place on national holidays and special anniversaries, modern art is included in displays in the National Gallery and the University Museum as well as in public offices.
*site currently not working.