The output of this art studio can be seen everywhere in North Korea.
Every statue of the leaders, every painting/image (as opposed to photograph) of the Leaders right down to the lapel pins worn by every citizen and all the great monuments such as the Monument to the Foundation of the Korean Workers Party were designed and, in the main, produced here. In addition to this, the studio has very active painting and pottery sections (among its thirteen sections). The studio’s most recognisable piece of work is the Mansudae Grand Monument in the city centre.
Only Mansudae Art Studio’s artists are sanctioned to portray the Kim dynasty. One can only imagine the spike in work here following the death of Kim Jong-il when his statue or mural had to be added to every existing one of his father, Kim Il-sung, and every house and building in the country needed a picture of him to accompany that of his father.
Following the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe there is now a worldwide shortage of socialist realist artists so up and coming Africa dictators and others have turned to North Korea for their statues and such like. This work has become quite a lucrative source of foreign exchange for North Korea. Overseas work includes the Three Dikgosi Monument in Botswana and Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine in Dakar, Senegal with other work in at least Namibia, Benin, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On a more modest scale, the current incarnation of the Fairy Tale Fountain in Frankfurt am Main, Germany was (rather controversially, in Germany) produced by the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang. On hearing about this, I checked out my Frankfurt am Main friend Don’s reviews on the now defunct Virtualtourist travel site to see if he had written on the Fairy Tale Fountain. He hadn’t but soon obliged. Don has now added this excellent review to his ‘Operas and cycling and whatnot’. I recommend you read it HERE
In fact, anyone can procure modest artwork in the form of paintings, pottery and revolutionary posters from the studio on the internet via a company in Italy.
On arriving at the studio (in reality numerous studios/buildings) opened in 1959 and employing some 4000 people including 1000 artists we were greeted by an amazing outdoor display of the most intricate murals we saw of the Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-suk (his first wife) and Kim Jong-il but, pride of place goes to the most fantastic bronze of Leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on horses.
Certainly for me these outdoor exhibits were the highlight of the visit to the studio though a close second was the sight of a group of tradesmen working on one of the buildings to the sound of revolutionary music being pumped from a ghetto blaster.
Scattered around the gardens are a number of models of small animals similar to those you find in council/city parks (generally faded and in a state of disrepair) where the guardians can’t think of anything else, though I have to say the ones here are maintained and in tip top condition – a bit incongruous, all the same, with the main exhibits.
While this is reputedly the largest art production centre in the world, our internal tour was limited to a small painting studio and a small pottery workshop. The quality of work in both (and especially the pottery workshop) was first class. It is always a treat to see real artists at work and not a bit of ‘modern art’ in sight unless I misinterpreted a few white coloured canvases I saw at the back of the painting studio!
We did not get to see the workshops where the large statues, monuments and public murals are produced. While sad, this is understandable as these items are kept under tight wrap until publicly unveiled.
This is one of the few places we visited that we did not get to visit the gift shop – perhaps the electricity was out!
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Korean Feature Film Studio (1) – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other