On route to the North Korean Embassy in Ealing, West London, 2014. All photos by Sara Raza for ArtAsiaPacific

Nov 25 2014

Visit to North Korea, via Ealing, West London

by Sara Raza

A little while back, I learned via an article in The Independent that, much to my surprise, the North Korean embassy in London had recently undertaken a rare cultural mission: over the summer, they had invited a group of painters from the fatherland to be residents in the British capital, to paint their perceptions of the city. What was more astounding was that this “cultural residency” then accumulated into a special four-day exhibition entitled “DPR Korea Fine Art,” which was held at the North Korean embassy in London. The exhibition was curated by Britain’s David Heather, who—according to his official Twitter account profile—is a self-confessed expert on North Korean art and propaganda. Clearly, the undertaking here was a form of cultural propaganda in order to promote North Korea as a culturally astute government and to deflect from its widely-regarded repressive regime, using art as a form of attempted diplomacy to create a bridge between Britain and North Korea. Fueled by curiosity I made the awkward journey to Ealing, West London, to a leafy residential street, where the embassy is situated in a large, nondescript house.

Greeted by embassy staff I encountered a rather crowded and random audience of bewildered visitors trying to get a glimpse of the art, which comprised painterly scenes of the metropolis, ranging from the Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, in addition to a number of expected traditional paintings and drawings of Korean still life. Some of the North Korean artists were present during the exhibition and seemed eager to interact with their British audience, despite speaking little English. I was also informed that this particular exhibition was the start of what would become a regular program at the embassy, spearheaded by exhibition organizer Serena Kim, as a means of promoting North Korean arts and culture in London. Interestingly, while writing this post, I received an email from Heather saying that further November dates were added for viewing, which extended the exhibition from its initial four-day run to a total of five days, with additional dates for private views. I switched over to check Heather’s Twitter feed, which stated that visitors to the show had peaked at over 2,000 people.

The following are photographs that were taken at “DPR Korea Fine Art” at the North Korean embassy in London.   

North Korean flag on full mast outside the North Korean embassy in Ealing, West London.
North Korean flag on full mast outside the North Korean embassy in Ealing, West London.

Sara Raza is Western and Central Asia desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific.