Korea’s dangerous stable of artists

"Confrontation" by Mansudae Art Studio's Kim Hyon Myong (2006), 84 x 129cm, oil on canvas. Via

North Korea’s Mansudae Art Studio may be the world’s biggest art factory. It employs around 4,000 laborers of which under a quarter are artists who mostly graduated from the Pyongyang University of Fine Arts. The studio churns out propaganda for the Kim family leadership, producing everything from trinkets to murals and gigantic Soviet-style monuments.

The studio is also for hire, running a side business worth millions of dollars annually, creating monuments and structures for other countries, mostly in Africa. The studio’s artwork is also available for purchase online.

Yet, Mansudae’s artwork and artists are rarely toured, until now. Four of Mansudae’s oil painters are in London and will launch, on November 4, a three-day exhibition of their work at the North Korean Embassy.

The exhibition is open to the public and the audience will have a chance to speak directly with the artists from the pariah state.

Ahead of the show, NK News spoke with the four artists, Kim Hun, Jon Pyong Jin, Ho Jae Song, and Hong Song Il, about their experience at the Mansudae Art Studio.

Life sounds pretty routine at Mansudae. The artists revealed that they normally work from Monday to Friday from nine to six, but adds that “it depends on the individual artists, as some of them work through overnight when they are inspired and focused at their artwork,” said Ho Jae Song.

The artists also say they can earn honorary titles, such as “Merited Artist” and “People’s Artist,” but are vague about the criteria, stating that the titles do not indicate experience or skill level of the artists but are accorded depending on “merits achieved.”

In London, the North Korean artists have kept busy creating paintings inspired by views of the city and its people. “The views might be ordinary to Londoners but those paintings are a reflection of London in the eyes of the artists,” said Kim Hun.

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