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
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).
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
In Democratic Republic of the Congo
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
All images by Mansudae unless otherwise noted.
- Andreas Gursky’s photos of the Mass Games in Pyongyang, North Korea
- Photos of world’s biggest statues taken from unusual angles – Fabrice Fouillet
- Segregated from the rest of the world, eerie North Korea – Photos by Philippe Chancel
- Calm photos of Pyongyang, the ultimate socialist city – Eddo Hartmann
- German photographer Thomas Struth visits North and South Korea