North Korean factory offers propaganda art on the cheap

Pyongyang's Mansudae employs 4,000 workers and appeals to governments hunting for inexpensive monuments

Topics: Hyperallergic, North Korea, Pyongyang, art factory, Mansuadae, dictators, sculpture, , , ,

North Korean factory offers propaganda art on the cheap This re-creation of Frankfurt’s Fairy Tale Fountain was built at Mansudae Art Studio in North Korea. (via Wikipedia)(Credit: Wikipedia)
This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.


Here’s something you may not have known: there’s a massive art factory in North Korea that makes monuments, sculptures, statues museums, and more for at least a dozen countries around the world. In a fascinating story in Bloomberg Businessweek, writer Caroline Winter lays out the details — or at least those she can gather — of Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, which takes up 30 acres, employs 4,000 people, 1,000 of them artists, and also includes a soccer stadium, paper mill, sauna, and kindergarten. Why does every story that comes out of North Korea seem somehow more bizarre than the last?

Senegal's 164-foot-tall African Resistance Monument is another example of Mansudae's handiwork. (click to enlarge) (via dorothy.voorhees on Flickr)
Senegal’s 164-foot-tall African Resistance Monument is another example of Mansudae’s handiwork. (click to enlarge) (via dorothy.voorhees on Flickr)

Among the international jobs the workers at Mansudae have completed are: a reconstruction of the Fairy Tale Fountain in Frankfurt, Germany; Senegal’s mammoth (164 feet tall) African Renaissance Monument; the Namibian State House; and the soon-to-open Grand Panorama Museum in Cambodia. The studio/factory is also responsible for North Korean state propaganda, which includes portraits, posters, and monuments celebrating country leaders Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. But the existence of an art factory making propaganda for an autocratic government isn’t strange; it’s the international commissions that are hilarious and unexpected.

According to Winter, Germany is thus far the only Western democracy to have engaged the services of Mansudae. It did so in 2005, commissioning the fountain re-creation for €200,000 total ($264,480 today). Klaus Klemp, deputy director of Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Art, told Winter, “The top tier artists in Germany simply don’t make realist work anymore. North Koreans on the other hand haven’t experienced the long evolution of modern art; they are kind of stuck in the early 1900s, which is exactly when this fountain was made.” And it went perfectly well, with the exception of a slight style issue: the North Korean sculpted the woman with “kind of a cement block hairdo,” in Klemp’s words — a little too Communist/socialist realist for 21st-century Germany.

Narcissistic leaders of a handful of African countries have also outsourced their projects to Mansudae, for which they’ve faced criticism at home. But you just can’t beat the price! Former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade apparently told the Wall Street Journal, “Only the North Koreans could build my statue. I had no money.”

Making the story even weirder is the fact that international sales of the studio’s smaller works are managed by an Italian man named Pier Luigi Cecioni. Its “official web-site abroad” is also run out of Italy and assures you that Mansudae “is not a sort of chain factory, like some Chinese and other Oriental centers, nor a school, but a very high quality art production center.” And although grandiose tributes to quasi-corrupt leaders with dictatorial tendencies appear to be Mansudae’s specialty, the artists there also excel at painting realistic street scenes and landscapes, many of them modeled on classical European predecessors. The website offers an array of harmoniously harmless pictures like this:

Han Guang Hun, "Dance Party in Open Air" (2006), oil, 78 x 103 cm (via
Han Guang Hun, “Dance Party in Open Air” (2006), oil, 78 x 103 cm (via

Prices aren’t listed, but you can get the buying process started by filling out this form. You could really build an amazing North Korean art collection this way … or at least spend hours trying to understand more about North Korea by browsing the works on offer. Below are a few more of our favorites, but nothing beats clicking around the site yourself.

Kim Hyon Myong, "Confrontation" (2006), oil, 84 x 129 cm
Kim Hyon Myong, “Confrontation” (2006), oil, 84 x 129 cm
Kim Hak Rim, "Emergency Call" (1999), woodcut, 32 x 80 cm
Kim Hak Rim, “Emergency Call” (1999), woodcut, 32 x 80 cm
Kim Song Sil, "Basket of Kim Jong Il Flowers" (2003), embroidery, 64 x 80 cm
Kim Song Sil, “Basket of Kim Jong Il Flowers” (2003), embroidery, 64 x 80 cm

More Hyperallergic

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>