Exhibitions: Art or propaganda? North Korea exhibit in Moscow

Fri Jan 14, 2011 6:31am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Chubby-cheeked, hard-working and joyous but also ready for military action is how North Korea presents its people at a major show of official art from the secretive state in Moscow.

"And Water Flows Beneath the Ice" exhibits 40 works by 39 state-commissioned artists which have never been shown abroad and span 25 years of tight North Korean rule.

Hardy women in overalls with windswept ponytails wade in rubber boots beside their male comrades in Pak Tong Chol's "Pioneers of Taming the Western Sea," from 2009. Sharing an innocent joke, the youths look happily ahead into the future.

Dozens of smiling steelworkers smelt and haul sheets of metal in a red flag-draped factory in Kim Su Dong's "Front Workers of the Age of Songun," also from 2009. They appear to be having the time of their lives.

All the art comes from Pyongyang's Mansudae Art Studio, set up in 1959 and whose 1,000 artists are at the core of North Korea's state-driven aesthetics. They designed the Pyongyang metro system and the capital's socialist-realist statues.

But the curators of the Moscow exhibit -- housed in the trendy Winzavod gallery, a revamped wine factory -- insist it is not to be confused with propaganda.

"Pure propaganda is not art. We are hoping visitors will see this as a national art form," co-curator Anna Zaitseva told Reuters at the pink-carpeted and red lit exhibit, which runs until the end of January.

Folksy, embroidered scenes of healthy seaweed farm workers and hay gatherers from the 1990s are highly reminiscent of the socialist-realism used by the former Soviet Union as a political message to show the greatness of the state by applauding socialist triumphs.   Continued...