Sunday, 1 January 2012

North Korean (Satirical) Artists

I once, in person, saw a large painting of white tigers basking in the winter sun on top of Baekdu Mountain, in North Korea. The exquisite painting was by a North Korean artist. I was struck at the talent and beauty that can be found in a country that is otherwise so terribly deprived.

There are two controversial Korean artists who had both defected from North Korea and now live in South Korea. Both were trained as North Korean propaganda artists and when the came to Korea they turned their propagandist style into dramatic satire against their former government.

The first is Seon Mu (Sun Mu), who uses a pseudonym lest North Korean spies should leak his identity to North Korea and his family (parents that are possibly still alive in the North) should be tortured on account of him. Sun Mu is known for his "Happy Children" series in which he depicted North Korean children in obvious displays of "conditioned" happy-acting, that is part of the daily life in Korea. You can visit his blog (in Korean) to see more of his work. An interesting aspect of his work is his use of nudity. All displays of nudity in North Korea are illegal as it is associated with American imperialist decadence. Showing nudity, therefore, not only celebrates his own freedom from the oppressive regime he grew up under, but also mocks the Pharisaic morals of the dictatorial North.

Another originally North Korean artist that defected to South Korea is Seong Byeok who attempted to escape from North Korea but was captured and put into work camps. He attempted again, fortunately succeeded and made his way to South Korea where he now works as an artist. He gained international recognition after his show early last year called "Forever Freedom", of which one painting displayed Kim Jong-Il is a cross-dressing Marilyn Monroe, mocking the late North Korean leader's love of cinema. Seong Byeok is set to exhibit in the USA this year. See his website here.

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