North Korea’s Mansudae leaves its mark on Africa with huge sculptures

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The Mansudae Overseas Project - Angola - Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, Luanda 1
Angola – Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, Luanda
Photo: Matteo de Mayda/theguardian.com

Published: December 1, 2017

Last updated:

North Korea’s art export

Artwork from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has always been a trademark for modern socialist realism. Although North Korea is well known for being the most secretive nation in the world, the largely unknown nation is certainly not shy when it comes to publicizing their statues, monuments, grand festivals, and celebrations. In particular, a North Korean based construction company known as Mansudae Overseas Project, has been designing fine art for decades, helping art to become one of North Korea’s most important and most successful exports. While many other North Korean barriers remain up, fine art from the country has managed to make its way to foreign countries that are located as far away as Africa.

About Mansudae Overseas Project

Established in 1959, the Pyongyang based art studio has a total of 4,000 workers, 1,000 of whom are highly skilled artists. The Mansudae Overseas Project has handled so much work over the years that it is currently classified as one of the largest and most successful art production studios in the world. The studio used to operate under the guidance of then-leader Kim Jong-Il who was known to have a deep and keen interest in art and theater performance.

The outside of the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, North Korea
The outside of the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, North Korea
Photo: Nicor [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Different departments inside the studio

The Mansudae Overseas Project features many departments, making it the most prominent and well-known studio in North Korea. Some of the departments include woodcutting, ceramics, painting and of course sculptures. Although the studio has helped to create monuments such as the Monument to the Founding of the Korean Workers Party1 all over the country, it is the international commissions that the studio is most well known for.

International exports since the mid-1970s

Since the mid-1970s, the international chapter of The Mansudae studio has been offering cheap labor for the creation of outstanding and huge monuments such as the African Renaissance monument in Senegal, as well as the Heroes Acre war monument in Namibia. The Mansudae Overseas Project has managed to attract a steady list of international clients although Germany is the only country in Europe that has ever commissioned the studio to create a monument (Frankfurt’s Fairy Tale Fountain).

Conclusion

Although The Mansudae Overseas Project has earned an estimated 160 million US dollars in the last 10 years, the studio has been criticized for poor working conditions that it exposes workers to and the low pay. The artists who work steadfastly do not get any returns as money from art sales is re-directed to the North Korean government. Additionally, some artists have criticized some of the monuments claiming that they are a little too ‘North Korean’ for their liking.

Videos: Interviews with artists in Mansudae Art Studio

1min 17sec

2min 39sec

Sculptures

<5>In Angola

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Angola - Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, Luanda 2
Angola – Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, Luanda

In Benin

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Benin - Statue of Béhanzin 1
Benin – Statue of Béhanzin

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Benin - Statue of Béhanzin 2
Benin – Statue of Béhanzin
Photo: Micheline Canal/flickr.com

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Benin - Statue of Béhanzin 3
Benin – Statue of Béhanzin

In Botswana

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Botswana - The Three Dikgosi Monument
Botswana – The Three Dikgosi Monument
Photo: US Army Africa/wikimedia.org

In Cambodia

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Cambodia - Angkor Panorama Museum, Siem Reap
Cambodia – Angkor Panorama Museum, Siem Reap

In Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Democratic Republic of the Congo - Monument to Laurent-Désiré Kabila
Democratic Republic of the Congo – Monument to Laurent-Désiré Kabila

In Ethiopia

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Ethiopia - By Andrew Moore from Johannesburg, South Africa (Statue - Tiglachin Monument (1984)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ethiopia – Tiglachin Monument, 50m, errected in 1984 in Addis Ababa
By Andrew Moore from Johannesburg, South Africa (Statue – Tiglachin Monument (1984)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Common

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Ethiopia - Tiglachin Monument, 50m, errected in 1984 in Addis Ababa 1
Ethiopia – Tiglachin Monument, 50m, errected in 1984 in Addis Ababa

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Ethiopia - Tiglachin Monument, 50m, errected in 1984 in Addis Ababa 2
Ethiopia – Tiglachin Monument, 50m, errected in 1984 in Addis Ababa

In Germany

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Germany - Frankfurter Märchenbrunnen, Foto Wikipedia | dontworry | CC BY-SA 3.0
Germany – Frankfurter Märchenbrunnen
Photo: dontworry/wikipedia.org

In Mozambique

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Mozambique - Maputo-Machel-Cathedral, Independence Square, Maputo, constructed in 2011, Cornelius Kibelka
Mozambique – Maputo-Machel-Cathedral, Independence Square, Maputo, constructed in 2011, Cornelius Kibelka
Photo: Cornelius Kibelka/wikimedia.org

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Mozambique - Maputo-Machel-Cathedral, Independence Square, Maputo, constructed in 2011, Fritz Joubert
Mozambique – Maputo-Machel-Cathedral, Independence Square, Maputo, constructed in 2011
Photo: Fritz Joubert/wikimedia.org

In Namibia

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Namibia - Heroes' Acre, inaugurated August 2002
Namibia – Heroes’ Acre, inaugurated August 2002

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Namibia - Independence Memorial Museum, Windhoek, inaugurated 2014
Namibia – Independence Memorial Museum, Windhoek, inaugurated 2014
Photo: t_y_l – P8303201/wikimedia.org

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Namibia - Okahandja Military Museum, Okahandja, inaugurated 2004, closed to the public
Namibia – Okahandja Military Museum, Okahandja, inaugurated 2004, closed to the public

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Namibia - State House of Namibia, Windhoek, inaugurated 2008 1
Namibia – State House of Namibia, Windhoek, inaugurated 2008

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Namibia - State House of Namibia, Windhoek, inaugurated 2008 2
Namibia – State House of Namibia, Windhoek, inaugurated 2008

In Senegal

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Senegal - African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar 1
Senegal – African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Senegal - African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar 2
Senegal – African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar
Photo: Jeff Attaway/wikimedia.org

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Senegal - African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar 3
Senegal – African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine), Dakar
Photo: derejeb/wixsite.com

In Zimbabwe

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Zimbabwe - Joshua Nkomo Statue
Zimbabwe – Joshua Nkomo Statue

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Zimbabwe - National Heroes Acre 1
Zimbabwe – National Heroes Acre

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Zimbabwe - National Heroes Acre 2
Zimbabwe – National Heroes Acre

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Zimbabwe - National Heroes Acre, By Gary Bembridge (Flickr- Heroes Acre, Harare, Zimbabwe) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2
Zimbabwe – National Heroes Acre
Photo: Gary Bembridge/flickr.com

The Mansudae Overseas Project - Zimbabwe - National Heroes Acre, By Gary Bembridge (Flickr- Heroes Acre, Harare, Zimbabwe) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Zimbabwe – National Heroes Acre
Photo: Gary Bembridge/flickr.com

All images by Mansudae unless otherwise noted.

Related works

Related readings

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_Party_Founding
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