Archive for the ‘Mansudae creative Company (art studio)’ Category

Mansu Hill Kim Il-sung statue under wraps

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

UPDATE 4 (2011-9-9): The statue appears to no longer be under wraps.  It was covered up apparently to protect it from nearby construction debris. Read more here.

UPDATE 3 (2011-6-30): According to images on display at the 2011 Pyongyang Architecture Exhibition, the Mansudae Grand Monument appears to keep its basic structure after the renovations are completed.  So this raises the question of what exactly they are doing to the statue…

Pictured above are architectural  and satellite imagery of Pyongyang’s  Mansudae area, currently under renovation.

UPDATE 2 (2011-6-8): According to the Pyongyang Times, the North Koreans are building “a monumental structure in the area in central Pyongyang where the statue of President Kim Il Sung stands”.

UPDATE 1 (2011-6-5): We have some pictures of the monument renovation:

Pictured above we can see a recent photo of the Kim Il-sung statue at the Mansudae Grand Monument.  It is covered in a white sheet (or plaster?).  There is some scaffolding around the lower half of the statue and a crane overhead.

The surrounding neighborhood is also being renovated.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-1):

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Kim Il-sung statue on Mansu Hill, Pyongyang

A recent visitor to the DPRK emailed me to say that the Mansudae Grand Monument has been covered up and will be closed to visitors until next March.  It appears they are renovating the national icon for Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday next year.

I am unsure if just the Kim Il-sung statue is covered or if the entire monument is under wraps.

An undertaking this prestigious would have to be approved at “the highest level”.

Construction of the Tower of the Juche Idea was similarly shrouded in secrecy until it was unveiled to Kim Il-sung in 1982 to commemorate his 70th birthday.

Projects like this are conducted by a special division of the Mansudae Art Studio located in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang.

The Pyongyang residential neighborhood to the south of the monument is also being renovated.

If you plan on visiting the DPRK in the near future, please try and get a picture!



Mansu Studio statue in Zimbabwe to be replaced…

Thursday, May 12th, 2011


UPDATE 2 (2011-5-12): Zanu-PF has decided to re-erect the Nkomo statue.  According to the Zimdiaspora:

The controversial statue of the late vice president Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo will be re-erected in Bulawayo’s city centre after Zanu PF bigwigs agreed to put up the giant North Korean designed effigy.

Zanu PF officials said President Robert Mugabe appointed Environment Minister Francis Nhema who is Nkomo’s son-in-law to be in charge of the raising of statue along Main Street.

The statue was removed last year following widespread outcry by the Nkomo family but latest details show that the family has backtracked following Nhema’s persuasion. The soft-spoken Nhema is married to Louise Sehlule, one of the late nationalist’s daughters.

In the past two months, sources said Nhema, who chairs the Joshua Nkomo Foundation, has been making frequent visits to Bulawayo where he also met senior politicians to lobby for the re-erection of the statue, which drew anger from the Nkomo and Bulawayo community because it was made in North Korea—a country known for training the notorious 5th Brigade soldiers who killed over 20 000 civilians, raping 60,000 women.

Nhema met vice president John Nkomo, politburo members, Joshua Malinga, Eunice Sandi and Angeline Masuku as he drummed up support for the statue to be re-erected.

After the uprooting of the statue, it was later agreed that it would be put at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo airport on the outskirts of Bulawayo but there were reservations that the public would not be able to view it since it will be kilometers away.

“It’s a matter of time before the statue is put back along Main Street. Zanu PF doesn’t want to be seen as failures by conceding to pressure from the Nkomo family and the people of Matabeleland,” said a top Zanu PF official.

The latest revelation to re-erect the statue comes against a backdrop of efforts by former Zipra commanders to block the move, saying Mugabe, 87, should first return Zipra buildings to its rightful owners. Some of the buildings include Magnet House, which houses the dreaded CIOs in Bulawayo.

Although Nhema was not answering his mobile phone Thursday, a politburo meeting Wednesday vowed that the statue would be erected again.

UPDATE 1 (2011-1-23): The statue was mentioned in this New York Times article

ORIGINAL  POST (2010-9-17): According to

Public anger over a decision to allow a North Korean firm to make a statue of a Zimbabwean freedom fighter resulted in government plans to take it down before its unveiling, according to reports Thursday.

The three-metre bronze statue of Joshua Nkomo had been under threat by the family of the deceased leader of the Ndebele ethnic group. They had vowed to tear it down, angered that the Zimbabwean subsidiary of a North Korean company had created it.

In the mid-1980s, North Korean military instructors, invited by President Robert Mugabe, trained a brigade that went on to kill thousands of Ndebele citizens during a low-intensity insurgency.

‘It was highly insensitive of the government to have hired the North Koreans to produce the statue without consulting Nkomo’s family or the people of Matabeleland,’ said political analyst Grace Mutandwa. ‘Let’s just say the North Koreans are not the Ndebele’s favourite people.’

After its completion, the statue remained covered by a black cloth on a plinth until Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi removed the shroud Wednesday, announcing plans to dismantle it ‘with immediate effect.’

Originally, Mugabe had planned to participate in a public unveiling of the statue.

In the 1960s, Nkomo became the first national leader of the fight by blacks against the white minority government of Ian Smith. He led a rival faction to Mugabe’s in the 1970s before independence in 1980 and Mugabe’s election as prime minister.

Shortly after, Mugabe accused Nkomo and his ZAPU party of being behind an insurgency and launched a crackdown in western Zimbabwe, in which thousands of civilians were killed or disappeared. Nkomo died of prostate cancer in 1999, aged 82.

This is not the first time this year the Ndebele have protested over North Korea’s relations with Zimbabwe.

The North Korean national football team had been due to train in Bulawayo before the World Cup in neighbouring South Africa in June and July, but the visit was called off after Ndebele groups vowed to disrupt their training.

And according to Zimeye:

[A] statue of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo was unveiled on Wednesday, but a minister said it would be immediately pulled down “following objections by his family and the Bulawayo community”.

A family spokesman said the statue, mounted at the intersection of Main Street and 8th Avenue was “small and pitiful”.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi met Nkomo’s family for four hours on Tuesday as he unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement on the three-metre-tall bronze statue which was erected over a month ago, and remained covered in a black cloth until Wednesday.

The meeting in Harare was also attended by Vice President John Nkomo, a relative of the late nationalist leader who died in July, 1999. Mohadi revealed John Nkomo was joined in the objections with the rest of the family.

Mohadi, who attended Wednesday’s unceremonious unveiling, said: “I have come here with bad news … to tell you that we will pull down and dismantle this statue with immediate effect.

“From the day when this statue was erected, the family objected and we have been receiving calls as to when the statue will be dismantled.

“We made extensive consultations and apparently Vice President John Nkomo shares the same sentiments with them, and as such we are complying with the wishes of the Nkomo family to remove the statue.”

Mohadi has refused to say where the statue was made and at what cost, although some reports say it was cast by a North Korean artist. It will be removed to the National Museum.

A senior government source revealed Mohadi had spoken to President Robert Mugabe after the tense meeting with Nkomo’s family.

“The President told Mohadi to ‘leave them (Nkomo’s family)’. He also said he was disappointed with John Nkomo for failing to take a principled stand,” the source said.

Mohadi, whose ministry commissioned two statues – the other designated for Harare – appeared to take the failure to get the statue to stand in Bulawayo personally.

He said: “It is unfair to myself and the ministry because we thought this was a government project that we initiated in honour of Dr Nkomo, but because the family objects to it we find it proper to concede to their plea and have no option but to abandon the project.

“With me, it is the end of the project indefinitely and I do not think we will do anything about it. The budget on it has been wasted.”

Mohadi disclosed contents of an August 31 letter he received from Nkomo’s daughter Thandiwe outlining 11 points of objection.
The family said there was no consultation on the final prototype, characteristics, and proposed locations of the statue.

“The statue itself is very small and pitiful, hardly a street statue at all nor the landmark and monument that it should be,” the family added.

The design of the statue said nothing about Nkomo and his historical legacy, the letter went on, and the size and colour of the 1,2 metre pedestal it was installed on “does not match the lofty stature of the late Father Zimbabwe.”

The family said it was not objecting to the principle of immortalising Nkomo with a statue, but wanted adequate consultations before work on a new one commenced. The family also wants the statue installed at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo.

The planned erection of a second statue in Harare — already mired in legal troubles — now appears unlikely to go ahead. The owners of the Karigamombe Centre, the proposed site of the statue, have obtained a court order stopping the erection.

This story was eventually picked up by the Associated Press on September 29th:

The two North Korean-made statues were meant to honor a national hero but people were so offended because of Pyongyang’s links to a blood-soaked chapter of Zimbabwe’s history that one was taken down almost immediately and the other has not been erected.

Besides, at least one of them didn’t even resemble Joshua Nkomo, a former guerrilla leader known as “Father Zimbabwe” who died in 1999 at the age of 82.

That the statues were designed and made by North Koreans is an affront to Zimbabweans who blame North Korean-trained troops loyal to President Robert Mugabe for massacring thousands of civilians as the government tried to crush an uprising led by Nkomo in the 1980s. The uprising ended when Nkomo signed a unity pact in 1987 and became a vice president.

No offense was intended by the choice of North Korea to make the statues, Godfrey Mahachi, head of the state National Museums and Monuments, told The Associated Press. He said North Korea was chosen simply because it won the bid for the work, promising favorable prices.

One of the Nkomo statues was erected briefly last month in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-biggest city, on the site where a statue of British colonial era leader Cecil John Rhodes once stood. Nkomo’s family called his statue artistically “ineffectual.”

While there were no organized protests, criticisms were widespread before the unveiling. Nkomo’s relatives were quoted in newspapers complaining that they had not been consulted. Simon Dube, a Bulawayo businessman, said the Nkomo statue was shrouded under a black cloth under police guard. Dube, who glimpsed it, said the statue’s head was too small for Nkomo’s famously heavy and imposing build.

Organizers kept the police on hand during the unveiling ceremony and took the statue down within hours.

The other statue was to have been placed in the capital, Harare, outside an office tower known as Karigamombe, which in the local Shona language means “taking the bull by the horns and slaying it.” Some saw that as adding insult to injury: the symbol of Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union party and his former guerrilla army was a rampaging bull.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said that despite the kerfuffle, the North Koreans have been paid their $600,000 for the two statues, state media reported.

Mahachi said officials are considering where else to put the two 3-meter (10 foot) statues.

“We still have to look at different options. They might go to museums, but that will be discussed to reach a final decision,” he said.

The Bulawayo statue is for the time being kept at the Bulawayo Natural History Museum, where the deposed statue of Rhodes is also kept.

Nkomo spent his adult life fighting colonialism and was also imprisoned for a decade for his political activism against white rule in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was previously called. “Father Zimbabwe” spearheaded black nationalist resistance to white rule well before Mugabe came on the scene. Nkomo’s image has appeared on postage stamps and the Bulawayo international airport has been named after him.


Lankov on the DPRK’s Socialist realism art

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Lankov writes in the Korea Times:

When North Koreans talk about their arts, they never fail to mention that it follows the traditions of “socialist realism.” But what is “socialist realism” in visual arts?

This style itself was invented in the Soviet Union of the 1930s and reached its height in the late 1940s when it was imported to the North by ethnic Korean Soviet painters (of whom Pak Wol-ryong was probably most prominent) and Korean students who studied in the USSR.

Most of our readers have some ideas about this style: photographic-like images of heroic workers, brave soldiers and wise leaders engaged in the socialist construction or in struggle against the scheming counter-revolutionaries, imperialists and other assorted villains (the villains appearing as ugly as their reactionary thoughts). In its North Korean variety, the style became even more syrupy, with soldiers’ uniforms in the trenches depicted as if freshly ironed and spotlessly clean.

The topics must be lofty and politically inspiring. In February 2007 North Korean artists had a major exhibition which presented some 500 works. The KCNA, the North Korean wire agency explained what was great about this triumph of creativity and artistic freedom (I use the original translation, helpfully provided by Pyongyang propagandists):

“The works truthfully depicted the revolutionary exploits of the three generals of Mt. Paektu (The ‘Three Generals’ being Kim Jong-il, his father and his mother) and their personality as peerlessly great persons and the national pride and honor of the army and people of the DPRK who hold Kim Jong-il in high esteem as their benevolent father.

Among the works are Korean painting ‘Frontline at night,’ oil painting ‘All 30 millions of people should be ready to fight’ and sculpture ‘Always believing in the people,’ which arouse viewers’ deep reverence and longing for President Kim Il-sung. There are also Korean paintings ‘Calling them proud scenes of the Army-first era,’ ‘I miss my soldiers’ and ‘Long journey for happiness’ and oil painting ‘Our General visits land of Samsu’ that vividly portrayed the immortal feats and the noble popular traits of Kim Jong-il who has made a long journey of the Army-first revolution.”

Great works, indeed! Needless to say, not just everybody can deal with such lofty topics. Under the North Korean system, a painter has to obtain a special certificate to have the right to depict the Three Generals (that is, the ruling family). Those who have received the said certificate are known as “number one artists” and the works which depict the Leaders are, as you might guess, also known as “number one works”.

Most of the number one works are produced by the “Mansudae Creative Group” which include about one thousand artists and some 2,700 supporting personnel. It occupies a large complex in Pyongyang. The group’s major task if to produce number one works, but it is also charged with making some art for export, as a way to earn a bit of foreign currency.

Not all North Korean painters are good enough to become number one artists, but in a close imitation of the Soviet model, all North Korean artists are required to join the Artists’ Union which is charged with both supervising and taking care of them. Only members of the Artists’ Union can be engaged in professional work, but this is also an agency which provides them with wages and social security. In the past, until the collapse of the North Korean economy in the 1990s, the painters were reasonably well paid, and painters from the Mansudae group were among the best paid professionals in the country.

There are grades for the artists as well. The best are given the title of “people’s artist” while slightly less prominent are “merited artists”. This echoes the Soviet system, once again. It is estimated that some 50 persons were deemed worthy of the people’s artist title while 300 or so have been recognized as merited artists.

The first recipient of the people’s artist title was Chong Kwan-chol, a graduate of a Japanese arts academy who spent all his life after 1945 depicting the heroic deeds of the anti-Japanese fighters and soldiers fighting the Yankee imperialists.

However, a better look at the most recent works of Pyongyang artists might indicate that something is changing. There is a slight deviation from the old mixture of syrupy romanticism and photography-like realism. Something similar to this could be noticed in the Soviet art of the 1960s when it began to drift away from the old conventions of socialist realism. Is something like this happening in North Korean as well? Who knows? We must wait and see.

Read the full story here:
‘Socialist realism’
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


North Korean art stirs Muscovites

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Leonid Petrov writes in the Asia Times:

After two months, an exhibition in Moscow of North Korean graphics, mosaics and embroidery is coming to a close. Oddly entitled “And Water Flows Beneath the Ice”, the exhibition was a major project initiated and hosted by Russian entrepreneurs at the trendy Winzavod Gallery, a revamped wine factory in central-eastern Moscow.

All the pictures came from the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, a government-run enterprise that employs more than 1,000 artists to create art for export.

The late (and eternal) North Korean president, Kim Il-sung, is known to have once said, “Abstraction in art is death,” leaving no choice for North Korean artists but to embrace socialist realism as their method.

Russians, who still remember when this artistic trend was the only one permitted by the Communist Party, were given a chance to refresh their memory exactly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is no surprise that many felt a sense of familiarity and at times nostalgia for while visiting the unusual exhibition.

During a short trip to Moscow last month, I met with colleagues, Russian scholars and researchers of Korean studies at the exhibition. They came along with their students, and we had a lively discussion about the hidden messages and artistic value of each picture. It was good to share opinions on a contentious topic such as North Korean art, and our feeling converged on many things regarding the commonalities and differences between North Korean and Soviet propaganda art.

First of all, socialist realism in art is a misnomer, since it depicts life as it should be, not as it really is. For instance, in this exhibition, there was an image of chubby children in Pyongyang Zoo feeding monkeys with ice-cream. The abundance of rice, vegetables and rabbits on show in other pictures also seemed a disservice to aid agencies diligently dispatching food and other humanitarian relief to starving North Koreans. In the artwork, life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was consistently depicted as affluent and pleasant.

In fact, North Korea is a revolutionary state, struggling to achieve economic success and advance its military power. This can be viewed and sensed through the canvases dedicated to the heroism of builders working on the Taegyedo Tideland Reclamation Project or soldiers engaged in constructing the Huicheon Dam.

Heroism at war and in peaceful reconstruction is venerated and equated to the revolutionary course of juche (national self-reliance) and songun (military-first) politics. Thus, every picture, embroidery and poster carries a condensed revolutionary message that must convince the viewer that the people of North Korea are determined and invincible. Some may call it propaganda, but in North Korea this genre is known as Chosunhwa (Korean painting).

In fact, there is very little of Korean tradition in Chosunhwa. Although most pictures are created with watercolors and ink, the characters, actions and settings are Stalinist Soviet or Maoist Chinese. Even where the North Korean artists try to be experimental and use such materials as gouache or mosaic, the results resemble the typical posters and murals once omnipresent in the streets of Moscow and Beijing.

Only the embroidery works were genuinely traditional, and most viewers were stunned by their elaborate composition and vibrant range of colors.

After discussing the merit of each exhibit, my expert friends and I agreed that totalitarian societies do produce impressive pieces of art, which inspire awe and overwhelm the target audience.

While the value of such art is transient and more akin to propaganda, the technical side of it is so unquestionably powerful that it deserves recognition and research, if not admiration.

Unfortunately for the North Korean artists and Mansudae Art Studio entrepreneurs, the value of this art is restricted by the willingness of the purchaser to help the juche and songun revolution. Otherwise, mainstream North Korean art, which is dutifully devoid of abstraction, has very limited export value.

That explains the usual commercial difficulties encountered by the North Korean art exhibitions brought overseas by the North Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. Among the rare buyers of the socialist kitsch are maverick revolutionary zealots and some rich sympathizers from South Korea.

In Russia and China, former communist patrons of North Korea, the appetite for hackneyed images and themes is dwindling. What leaves the strongest impression from “The Water Flows Beneath the Ice” is not the contrived propaganda on the walls but the artistic installation placed in the middle of the gallery.

Dozens of green combat helmets hanging from the ceiling form perfect lampshades over the scarlet-red carpet hosting a lonely short-legged Korean traditional table. A bowl of white rice on the table symbolizes the prosperity that songun was designed to create and protect. The soft pink light gleaming from each helmet resembles the cherished hope of the Korean people for peace, love and harmony.

The bouquets of colorful firework shots projected on the screen at the end of the gallery hall surmount the composition and instill a sense of triumphant fulfillment. The aim is seemingly to capture the unbending spirit of Koreans (in both the North and South), as well as their hardworking and peace-loving character.

Overall, the “And Water Flows Beneath the Ice” was a bright and memorable phenomenon for the cultural life of the Russian capital. Neither the awkwardness of the premises (conditions in the old liquor factory demanded that all visitors wore clumsy overshoes) nor the overpriced pamphlet (more than US$30) spoiled the positive and inspiring atmosphere.

Although it is commercially and morally questionable as well as kitsch, the unusual initiative has awakened in hardened Russian art-lovers a long-lost belief in fairness and altruism: ideals that are highly valued by Koreans.

Read the full story here:
North Korean art stirs Muscovites
Asia Times
Leonid Petrov


DPRK workers in Angola

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The Agostinho Neto Center of Culture is a massive national park that the Angolan government is building on 12,000 sq. m of land in the capital city Luanda in memory of its first president. On Oct. 24, the entrance was firmly shut with a black iron gate. Through barred windows, three or four Asian workers could be seen: they are staff of North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, which earns much-needed foreign currency for the regime from massive construction projects and monumental sculpture in the developing world.

Initially, the Agostinho Neto Center was commissioned to a Brazilian construction company, but work came to a halt until the North Koreans took over at the end of 2007.

The North Korean workers are living together in temporary wooden accommodation in a corner of the construction site. There are reportedly 100 to 120 of them in Angola. North Korea supported independence movements and civil wars of some African countries, and has been involved in some large construction projects there based on the diplomatic ties built this way. The North provided military aid to the side currently in power during the Angolan civil war and is reportedly building other parks and peace monuments in Cabinda and Huambo, one or two hours away by plane from Luanda.

The Daily NK reported North Korea has earned at least US$160 million in construction projects in Africa since 2000. A South Korean resident in Angola said, “Although North Korean workers only get minimum living cost from their government, they make additional money by working on smaller-scale projects locally when they have some spare time waiting for equipment or materials to arrive.”

One North Korean worker said, “When we go to the site for work, we sometimes get Angolan traditional congee called Fungi. It’s delicious. We eat better here than in North Korea because we can get rice from Chinese construction firms.”

In a predominantly black residential area in Luanda, there is a pharmacy run by a North Korean doctor in a shabby one-story building. “I work at a national hospital in the morning, and run this pharmacy privately in the afternoon. This is the only way I can make the ends meet,” he said.

According to a local source, there are about 180 North Korean doctors across Angola, including about a dozen in Luanda. There are also North Korean doctors in Mozambique and Congo, and some practice oriental medicine. At the pharmacy, acupuncture costs $80 for the first treatment and $40 thereafter.

Read the full story here:
N.Koreans Struggle for Hard Currency in Africa
Choson Ilbo


DPRK delivers Kasavubu statue to Kinshasa

Friday, August 13th, 2010

UPDATE: Google just updated their satellite imagery over Kinshasa.  Now we can see where the statue is located:

ORIGINAL POST: The DPRK’s Mansudae Overseas Development Group has designed and built many buildings and statues across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  I have been trying to map out these projects on Google Earth.

The most recent project appears to be the statue of Joseph Kasavubu in the DR Congo.  June 30th 2010 was the DRC’s 50th independence day and the statue of its first president was unveiled as part of the celebrations:

Here is a story in French about the unveiling of the new statue.

Using Google Translate, I pulled out the following blurbs:

(June 29, 2010) President Joseph Kabila unveiled Tuesday in Kimpwanza Square in the town of Kasavubu, to the cheers of the people, the monument to the first president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kasavubu.

It is a bronze monument of 5 tons, 5.45 meters high.

The story incorrectly notes that the statue was made in South Korea.

I have so far been unable to locate the square where this statue is located.  Help appreciated. A reader called “NKObserver” identifies the location here: 4° 20′ 17.19S 15° 18′ 18.38″E.

Additional information:

1. Here is a set of photos of the statue taken by a visitor.

2. Here is an interesting video clip of a Chinese protest of Kasavubu in 1961 featuring Zhou Enlai.

3. Here are previous posts on the Mansudae Overseas Development Group.  They do not reflect all the projects I have identified, but if you know of any others, please pass the information to me.


Bronze Kim Jong il statue unveiled

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

First of all, here are the images (from the Daily NK web page):

3-stars-of-paektu.jpg  kim-jong-il-bronze-statue.jpg

The Daily NK also offers the following commentary:

A statue of Kim Jong Il has been revealed in a North Korean newspaper obtained by Open Radio for North Korea.

Open Radio managed to obtain a copy of the May 11th, 2010 “Chosun People’s Army,” the North Korean military’s own publication. That day, the publication ran a banner headline, “The greatest privilege and highest honor of the Mt Baekdu revolutionary army.”

“There has been an unveiling ceremony of statues of the ‘Three Mt. Baekdu Generals’ (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Suk) dressed in military uniform at the Revolutionary History Museum of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces,” the front page article explained.

The report added that Chief of Staff of the Chosun People’s Army Lee Young Ho and First Vice-Director of the General Political Department of the People’s Army Kim Jung Kak took part in the ceremony.

Kim Jung Kak emphasized in his speech at the ceremony that the statue of Kim Jong Il is the first dressed in military attire, claiming, “It is the luckiest and most honorable thing in the world for the Chosun People’s Army to have this, the first statue of its highest commander dressed in military uniform.”

On the subject of the relative lack of Kim Jong Il statues, Cheong Young Tae, a researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, explained to The Daily NK today, “Kim Jong Il inherited the family’s ruling legitimacy by making his father the eternal ‘Suryeong’ (supreme leader). It seems, then, that the process of justifying and enhancing the legitimacy of the revolution now includes setting Kim up as the second ‘Suryeong’ in order to hand over power to the next generation.”

But while statues of Kim are rather rare, they do exist. Open Radio cited a defector as saying, “I’ve seen a Kim Jong Il statue at Kim Jong Il Political Military University in Pyongyang. However, most people do not know about it.”

“I think that is natural, because it is the only university which is named after Kim Jong Il. There is no Kim Jong Il statue in any other province or in official buildings, though” he added.

Additionally, a 2008 report asserted that a gold statue of Kim Jong Il can be found “in the area in front of the National Security Agency office building at the foot of Mt. Amee in Daesung district, Pyongyang.” This one, the report asserted, was erected on Kim Jong Il’s 46th birthday in 1988, but no photos exist to corroborate the claim.

Another, white plaster statue of Kim can be found at the International Friendship Exhibition at Mt. Myohang, north of Pyongyang, this one a stalwart on the North Korean tourist trail.

Additional information:

1.  An image of the Kim Jong-il statue at Myohyangsan can be seen here (link).  Scroll down until you see it.

2.  The Kim Jong il statue reminds me of the Laurent Kabila statue in Kinshasa (both made by the Mansudae Art Studio).


Mansudae Overseas Development Group Projects

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has earned more than $160 million in the last ten years thanks to the construction of sculptures and other edifices in countries across Africa.

A Daily NK source in China revealed on the 18th, “Since 2000, North Korea has been earning colossal quantities of dollars through contracts for the Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies under the Mansudae Art Institute to construct sculptures.”

Mansudae Art Institute is an organization primarily dedicated to the idolization of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il through public works, one whose construction of edifices such as the Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang has added to the status of the country.

It has also been building revolutionary monuments in African countries such as Ethiopia since the 1970s in order to maintain cordial relations with socialist states, but in the early 2000s started doing work in African countries to earn foreign currency as well.

According to the source, North Korea has earned $66.03 million from Namibia alone thanks to the construction of the Presidential Palace ($49 million); the Cemetery of National Heroes ($5.23 million); a military museum ($1.8 million); and Independence Hall ($10 million).

It has also earned almost $55 million from Angola via the António Agostinho Neto culture center ($40 million); Cabinda Park ($13 million); and the Peace Monument ($1.5 million).

Additionally, the North has constructed a basketball stadium ($14.4 million) and an athlete academic center ($4.8 million) in the Congo, earning almost $20 million dollars in total.

Thanks to the Monument to the African Renaissance in Senegal, the North has made another $12 million dollars.

There are around 19.8㎢ set aside for a vacation spot for the president of Equatorial Guinea, which is supposed to earn Mansudae around $800,000, not to mention a government office building ($1.5 million), Luba Stadium ($6.74 million) and conference halls ($3.5 million).

The source also reported, “The money earned from these construction projects is managed by the No. 39 Department. Some of these dollars are used for domestic governance, while the rest go to secret accounts in Switzerland or Macau to become Kim Jong Il’s secret funds.”

Here are the images from the story including a table of financial data (which I would take with a grain of salt):

dnk-mansudae-1.jpg dnk-mansudae-2.jpg dnk-mansudae-3.jpg dnk-mansudae-4.jpg dnk-mansudae-5.jpg dnk-mansudae-6.jpg dnk-mansudae-7.jpg

Additional Information:

1. I blogged here about the Derg Monument in Ethiopia.

2. I have located some of the Mansudae Overseas projects mentioned in this story (as well as numerous other places not menioned in this story: Egypt and Syria, Zimbabwe, DR Congo). However, here are GeoEye satellite images of some of the Namibia and Angola projects mentioned above courtesy of Google Earth:  

Namibia National Heroes Acre (22°39’46.02″S,  17° 4’41.06″E):


Namibia State House (22°35’28.83″S,  17° 6’2.76″E)


Cultural Center of António Agostinho Neto (Mausoleum) (8°49’24.73″S,  13°13’8.52″E)




Book review Tuesday: Lankov and Foster-Carter

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Book Review 1: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves-And Why It Matters
Author: B.R. Meyers
Reviewed by: Andrei Lankov
Review Publisher: Far Eastern Economic Review (the last issue)
Order this book on Amazon here

Most books on North Korea focus on the nuclear issue, that never-ending soap opera of the international diplomacy. In the rare cases when North Korean domestic dynamics are taken into account, the authors (most of whom do not speak or read Korean) concentrate on the official pronouncements of the regime.

Brian Myers takes a fresh approach. He largely ignores what the regime tells the outside world about itself, but concentrates instead on what North Koreans themselves are supposed to believe, paying special attention to the North Korean narratives and mass culture, including movies and television shows. North of the DMZ, mass culture is not about entertainment. Rather it is a lighter version of propaganda whose task is to deliver the same message, but in more palatable form.

As in the case in the Soviet Union, Pyongyang uses works of fiction to send signals which cannot be transmitted otherwise due to current political considerations. For example, when North Korean media found a few kind words for South Korean President Kim Dae Jung who visited North Korea in 2000 with impressive amounts of giveaway cash, North Korean novels still ridiculed him as a pathetic double-dealer.

Continue Reading here…

Bookr review 2: North Korean Posters
Editor: David Heather
Reviewed by: Aidan Foster-Carter and Kate Hext
Review Publisher: Print Quarterly, December 2009 issue (Vol XXVI no 4), pp 429-31.
Order this book on Amazon here

North Korean art is hardly well-known, but it has recently seen something of a surge. For this David Heather can claim some credit, and does. As he boasts in his brief (just one page) preface to this block of a book, “I held the largest exhibition of North Korean Contemporary Art in the West in June 2007 in the heart of London and managed to fly the North Korean Flag in Pall Mall for probably the first time ever” (p.7, capitals in original).

That militant tone, here tongue in cheek, is deadly serious in North Korean Posters. On page after gaudy page angry Korean heroes curse and smite the foe, mostly Americans with hook noses. Fists, tanks and sledgehammers crush; bayonets lunge and stab; rockets rain down – including on a shattered US Capitol (p. 138), in blithe disregard of post-9/11 sensitivities.

In a year when North Korea has been censured by the UN for testing a nuclear device and a long-range missile, such images can only reinforce stereotypes of what Koen De Ceuster in his introduction calls a country “often misrepresented and largely misunderstood” (p.9). Yet there is more to North Korean art than this, as anyone who attended David Heather’s shows at La Galleria can attest. (For those who missed out, images and comment can still be found by searching Philip Gowman’s London Korean Links website, an indispensable resource.)

Here one finds a commercial tie-in modestly unadvertised in North Korean Posters. The said posters, plus a range of other artworks – various genres of painting, tapestry and ceramics – may be purchased via, which proclaims that: “La Galleria Pall Mall has the privilege to be the only Gallery outside DPR Korea to be permitted to sell art and represent individual artists from North Korea. We can certify that all the works are original and authentic, made and signed by the artists themselves in Pyongyang.” These posters, here described as “Propaganda Popart” (sic), can be yours for £250 each (unframed) plus postage.

“Individual artists”? Not one is named in the book under review. Nor are the pieces dated; so one cannot trace the evolution of styles or themes, let alone particular artists. By contrast, the first volume in this series by Prestel – Soviet Posters, featuring Sergo Grigorian’s collection (2007) – is divided into six periods; each work is dated, with notes on artists and other detail. The absence of such basic data in North Korean Posters is a serious omission. De Ceuster’s useful Introduction gives the broad context, yet is oddly free-standing. With few exceptions the posters are left to shout for themselves, with no information except basic translations of the slogans – which, bizarrely and inconveniently, are printed sideways rather than below.

Furthermore, when is a North Korean poster “original and authentic”? De Ceuster notes that “hand-painted reproductions find ready buyers abroad.” is silent on this key question for collectors: what exactly does your £250 buy, an original or a copy? (Also its comments on the actual art are trite, even illiterate: gouache and propaganda are misspelled.)

The ambiguities go on. Curiously, Northkoreanart does not say who exactly is its partner in Pyongyang, but its sister site reveals this as the Mansudae Art Studio. Yet a search swiftly brings up, based in Italy and claiming to be “the only official web-site of the Mansudae Art Studio in the West,” which pipped Heather to the post with an exhibition in Genoa in May 2007. Will the real Mansudae reps please stand up? The Italian site is far more educative. Through it one can buy The Hermit Country, which despite a clichéd title (it must have miffed the comrades) is a much better, broader book on modern North Korean art, not limited to posters. The moving spirits here are a pair of Pier Luigis: Cecioni, a collector who owns 600 works; and Tazzi, an idiosyncratic but insightful critic.

For a serious academic survey, Jane Portal’s aptly titled Art Under Control in North Korea (Reaktion/British Museum, 2005), with its fully integrated text and illustrations, is essential. The current art scene in Pyongyang was recently described in an excellent piece by Adrian Dannatt in March’s Art Newspaper. This is big business, on an industrial scale. Mansudae has a thousand artists producing “at least 4,000 top level original works a year [and] a factory-style section producing copies for western hotels;” while abroad it claims to have held over 100 shows in some 70 countries.

Perhaps there are yet more ‘sole agents’ out there? North Korea lends itself to a Columbus complex. People who happen upon it often imagine they are the first ever to do so, and even when disabused they like to claim a special niche. Scepticism is in order, on many counts.

As Dannatt says: “it could not be easier to assemble a collection of contemporary DPRK art … but it could not be harder to source the originals.” He quotes Nicholas Bonner, the doyen of collectors in this area – he began in 1993, and is curating a major exhibition in Brisbane in December – on how many ‘original’ works are in fact copies, and how to tell the difference. Bonner’s website, showcasing his gallery in Beijing, makes no monopoly claims but focuses on the actual art. Interestingly Bonner eschews the propaganda genre, but has a fascinating selection of film posters: a far less aggressive variant, ignored by Heather. He is also scrupulous in specifying that what he offers are “hand painted copies.”

But back to the book. North Korean Posters is a sadly missed opportunity. It reiterates visual cliché, but gives almost no context – historical, political, artistic – for these specific works. It is just a picture book to flick through: no dates, no dimensions, no artists. For a publisher of Prestel’s stature these are shameful lapses. Is the image somehow meant to speak for itself?

Absent such essentials, this is just another twist on commie chic – like Che Guevara T-shirts. It is all very postmodern and cynical. Once upon a time North Korea was communist. Some of these posters are about ideals people believed in, as they strove to build a better society. In today’s DPRK, a half-starved neo-feudal tyranny, one of the few ways to earn hard cash is factories of well-trained draughtsmen flogging second-hand images – bilious or kitsch, take your pick – to gullible, exoticizing Westerners. (Here as in all else, the contrast with South Korea’s brilliant and original art scene is acutely painful.) The laugh is on us too, if we just gawp at these admittedly striking visuals. Have we lost our minds? Do we care to know what we are we looking at? Neither Heather nor Prestel seem bothered. Caveat lector – et emptor.

I used a copy of Soviet Posters and North Korean Posters to make this artistic discovery.


Syria’s Tishreen War Panorama

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Visitors to Pyongyang’s Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (Location here) will be interested to know that the DPRK has exported its museum technology to Syria’s Tishreen War Panorama (Location here).


The images are from this web page.

According to an official web page (I think), the panorama dimensions are 129.5m x 7.8m.  It was painted by Kim Sing Chol, O Kwang Ho, Ri Jae Su, Ri Kap Il, Kim Chol Jin, Choe Song Sik, Ri Jong Gap, Kim Ki Dok, Cha Yo Sang, Ri Yon Nam, and it opened on 6th October 1999.  These artists are employees of the Mansudae Overseas Development Group (Art Studio).

I thank a reader for sending me this information.  I have been mapping North Korean projects in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East on Google Earth.  Here are some I have blogged about: Monument to African Renaissanace, Zimbabwe Hero’s Park, Ethiopia’s Derg Monument, Kinshasa Kabila Statue, and quite a few more.  If you are aware of any North Korea projects in your area please let me know.

UPDATE: Cairo’s October War Panorama is also built by the North Koreans.   It appears to have nearly identical architecture.  It is located here.