Socialist Realism and Its Discontents



North Korea’s propaganda machinery is well-known for its iconography of the Great and Dear Leaders; as B. R. Myers argues in The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters, these images have strong religious overtones. Among our favorites is a postage stamp of Kim Jong Il, atop Mt. Paekdu—North Korea’s Sinai--with the Holy Spirit of his father hovering over him. (In fact, Dear Leader was born in the Soviet Union).

We were therefore particularly interested in a recent show in Seoul that showcases the work of North Korean refugee Song Byeok.

Song had himself been a painter of propaganda posters before he left in 2002, and has since turned his talents to edgy anti-iconic art. The exhibition, “Forever Freedom,” took place at the Gallery GAIA in Insa-dong. Some of our favorite images from the show include a blasphemous painting worthy of Warhol: Kim Jong Il as Marilyn Monroe surrounded by a school of small red fish.

[Source: Galerie Gaia]

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