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North Korean art goes on show at the United Nations—in defiance of Kim Jong-un

Four artists submitted works in secret for the international art exhibition

by Gareth Harris  |  7 August 2017
North Korean art goes on show at the United Nations—in defiance of Kim Jong-un
The United Nations headquarters in New York (Photo: Steve Cadman/Flickr)
An exhibition at the United Nations headquarters in New York includes works by four North Korean artists who are participating anonymously for fear of reprisal. Ambassadors entering the building will see the works on display in the Delegates entrance as part of a 50-strong show called the International Youth Exhibition (until 11 August).

The exhibition is organised by the Beijing-based non-profit Eye Art International in partnership with the Society & Diplomatic Review, an UN-affiliated journal. 

The show is part of a cultural offensive launched by China. “This exhibition is inspired by the People’s Republic of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, an ambitious development campaign through which China hopes to boost trade, stimulate economic growth and enhance cultural communication across Asia and beyond,” a project statement says.

According to the New York Post, the North Korean artists submitted their works in secret, bypassing government officials in the notoriously censorious state. One painting shows a mother and toddler looking at Korean architecture; another depicts a North Korean woman in national costume. 

Gloria Starr Kins, the editor in chief of the Society & Diplomatic Review, says that the initiative is “important, yet delicate”. Last week, the UN voted to impose new sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s regime, which include banning North Korean exports of coal and iron.

“Apart from the North Korean artists, there will also be works from artists of Pakistan, India, Panama, China, and many other countries shown in this exhibition,” she adds.  “The artists from North Korea will not be attending. The works will not be on permanent display, only for a week or so after the opening ceremony held last Friday (4 August).” The German airline Lufthansa is among the exhibition sponsors.  

UPDATE 8 August: The North Korean government approved one artist. "The North Koreans sent us the painting that was approved and accepted by the country with a known artist recently shown in a New Jersey gallery. Unfortunately, the size [of the work] did not fit into the space," Starr Kins says. Four artists participated anonymously. 

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