October 03, 2023

Beyond propaganda: New exhibit spotlights North Korea’s ‘hidden’ oil paintings

Works by early DPRK artists reveal a more personal style and even share characteristics with ROK art, organizers say

A stream pours through a cloud-covered valley, majestic mountains towering above. A worker, arms crossed and forehead wrapped with cloth, poses for a portrait. The tentacles of two squid spill off a dish, alongside the rigid bodies of fish also waiting to be cooked.

The phrase “North Korean art” typically evokes images of colorful socialist propaganda. But a new exhibition in Seoul aims to turn that assumption on its head, showcasing DPRK paintings that reflect the interests and talents of artists more than the dictates of the state.