Art is often called an expression of one’s soul. With it, anyone is able to show a myriad of emotions, beliefs, preferences, and other parts of themselves without worldly restriction. Some artists are very precise, admiring conformity as seen with many Renaissance artists. Others on the other hand transgress beyond norms and boundaries as seen through the cubism movement by Pablo Picasso or the surrealism of Salvador Dalí. Either way, an artist is free for their form of expression.
With that in mind, the case is different for artists in North Korea. Through having the ability to create the world as they see it, they are limited to an extent. In short, an artist in the country has their creativity heavily muzzled, yet they create some fine masterpieces nevertheless.
For those who do not know, people in North Korea are doled out their lifelong jobs by the government. The better jobs are usually given to the wealthy and well-connected while those who don’t fit such a criteria, not so much, as detailed by defector Mina Yoon to The Guardian. A lucky few, however, are sent to educational institutions that teach engineering, medicine, teaching, music, foreign languages, drama, and fine arts. One must put stock on the fine arts because just north of Pyongyang is a campus that is considered the heart of North Korea’s fine art scene, the Mansudae Art Studio. It has 700 artists and 4,000 on staff to produce paintings, posters, and sculptures.
Needless to say, but Mansudae Art Studio is government-owned and its art is usually created to extol its leaders and the military. But probably as a sign of easing tensions, the studio is starting to accept commissions from international clients. Ergo, the Western world is able to see artwork done by North Korean artists for the first time.
What most people may not know is that anyone could actually order North Korean art since Mansudae Art Studio has an official website. However, as detailed by Huffington Post, it may be difficult to impossible for any U.S. residents to get such work delivered to their door. Still, the artwork they do have is spectacular though its mostly themed around socialist realism, featuring scenes of North Koreans fulfilling their lives through the work they’ve been assigned to. Pastoral views are quite common along with Korean styles too.
Still, North Korean artists are still slaves. Song Byeok retells such an experience to The Hollywood Reporter back in 2002 on how he and his family have suffered. In the end, a North Korean artist may not be the true definition of an artist at all. Though they have talent and skill, the fact they are muzzled (as mentioned earlier) means they are simply a tool, just like everyone else who lives in North Korea.
[Featured Image via Mansudae Art Studio, Post Image via Kaesong Art Collection]