North Korean Artists Exhibit Work at United Nations Headquarters Anonymously
By Jia Dong
Four North Korean artists risked their personal safety by participating in an exhibition at the United Nations headquarters in New York without approval from the hermit kingdom’s regime. The weeklong show is part of the “International Youth Exhibition” organized by the Beijing-based nonprofit Eye Art International and UN-accredited journal Society & Diplomatic Review, and opened on Friday, August 4. The four artists sent in their artwork anonymously for fear of reprisal at home.
The exhibition is inspired by the People’s Republic of China’s “One Belt, One Road” development campaign, which Chinese president Xi Jinping put forward to stimulate economic growth and cultural interactions in targeted Eurasian countries, and was mounted at the Delegates' entrance, which is strictly reserved for delegations from the Permanent and Observer Missions.
The North Korean regime maintains tight control of all media, including the visual arts. For artworks to be sanctioned in North Korea, they must be created under strict governmental supervision and serve propaganda purposes. The New York Post reported that the Society & Diplomatic Review’s editor, Gloria Starr Kins, praised the courage of these four artists, who embarked on a “low key” and “important, yet delicate initiative.”
The four anonymous artists who presented work in the International Youth Exhibition did not attend the show. Their artworks include one painting of a mother attending to a toddler who is looking at a mural that depicts a white building. Another is an obverse portrait of a Korean woman dressed in traditional garb.
On August 8, the North Korean government authorized the participation of one artist (who was not among the anonymous four) in the exhibition. However, the artwork was too large to fit into the exhibition venue. Typically, North Korean cultural outreach is designed to funnel foreign currency into the regime’s coffers: in 2016, the Mansudae Art Studio designed and constructed the Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, with a lifelike cyclorama of episodes from Khmer history painted by state-sanctioned artists. Six years earlier, the studio designed and built the 164-foot-tall bronze African Renaissance Monument in Dakar.
Jia Dong is an editorial intern art ArtAsiaPacific.
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