North Korean art exhibition to be held during Gwangju Biennale

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Feb 1, 2018 - 17:01
  • Updated : Mar 14, 2018 - 13:59
This year‘s Gwangju Biennale will have special “guests” -- artwork from North Korea.

An authority in North Korean art, US-based BG Muhn is organizing an exhibition of North Korean artworks during the Gwangju Biennale, which kicks off in September.

“I decided to organize the exhibition because I wanted to introduce the beautiful aesthetics embedded in North Korean art, which are upstaged by the political meanings attached to them,” said Muhn said in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

”If the exhibition of North Korean art at the American University Museum focused on historical backgrounds and development of art in North Korea, the exhibition at 2018 Gwangju Biennale will be more to introduce its unique and various style of the artworks from North Korea,“ he said. In the summer of 2016, Muhn had organized an exhibition of North Korean art at the American University Museum in Washington, D.C.

“A Worker” by Choe Chang-ho (Yonhap)

The artworks Muhn plans to introduce in Gwangju include paintings of different genres, ranging from oriental landscape paintings and Chosonhwa-- traditional ink wash painting developed in North Korean style -- to socialist realism paintings. The exhibition will also include a five-meter-wide painting from Masundae Art Studio, a state-run art studio collective in Pyongyang.

It will be the first exhibition to introduce artworks with the theme of North Korean proletariat, commonly known as propaganda paintings.

”North Korea has developed its own style of oriental painting. The style of oriental painting in North Korea is something that cannot be found in either South Korea or China,“ Muhn said.

While admitting that socialist realism paintings in North Korea mainly focus on optimistic depictions of the political system and ideology, Muhn also noted that the paintings all have stylistic differences. ”Every artist carries this instinct to express things in his own way, and that also takes place in North Korean arts. Limited in choosing themes for their artworks, North Korean artists still strive to find their own ways to express themselves, Muhn explained.

“Visitors will get a glimpse of North Korea through its artworks that don‘t frequently make their appearance outside of the country,” Muhn said.

Muhn, who became fascinated with North Korean art in 2010, has been delving into North Korean art for more than seven years now. “I feel obligated to introduce North Korean art, Chosonhwa in particular,” he said, expressing his desire to continue his study of North Korean art.

Muhn has made several research trips to North Korea, visiting museums and interviewing artists. He has also given numerous lectures at US universities, including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Harvard universities. Muhn is currently working on a book on North Korean art, focusing on Chosonhwa.

Shim Woo-hyun (