Norwegian artist Henrik Placht weighs in on his experiences in N. Korea

By Henrik Placht Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/13 18:38:40


Henrik Placht (center) talks with North Korean artists in Pyongyang Photo: Courtesy of Morten Travvik

 A painting by Henrik Placht and North Korean artists Photo: Courtesy of Henrik Placht

Editor's Note:

In late August, Norwegian artist Morten Traavik held a cultural exchange event in North Korea as part of his DMZ Academy project. The nine-day event gave seven international artists the opportunity to interact and discuss art with their contemporaries in the country through a series of demonstrations, forums and artistic activities. 

In an interview with the Global Times, published on Tuesday, Traavik went into detail about some of the difficulties and negative situations he had encountered trying to carry out the project amid current international tensions.

After reading the article, Norwegian artist Henrik Placht, one of the artists who took part in the project, wrote in to present his take on the experience.

I was one of the artists who took part in Traavik's DMZ Academy project. 

I had a very different experience during the project.

It was initially my idea to establish an academy of art in Pyongyang and to create a bridge between North Korean artists and the international art scene.

I did the same in Palestine where I spent seven years establishing a program for art education in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway.

My experience in North Korea and meeting the North Korean artists was only positive.

I worked with them and we made some paintings together. I also made my own paintings there and we discussed our different ways of working and also the artists' different position in the society there and out here in the art world.

The position of artists in North Korea is very important for the society and also for the state itself, because they are the only producer of images depicting the leaders and state values delivered to the people.

This can be portraits, or depicting images such as holy flavors, mountain, stories and visual language that is directly linked to their culture and history.

I see it as very classical Asian language similar or connected to Chinese and Japanese cultures.

They had never seen abstract art language before so I gave them an introduction to it in a lecture and also a self-presentation where we talked a bit about how and why abstract art has been reduced to this in the West.

I felt that we respected each other and became instantly friends and found some common ground outside of the politics, which was healthy and good for us.

I was painting with my North Korean friends in the university there when suddenly the head of the university Mr. Ri sat down and drew a portrait of me. For me, this was a very beautiful moment.

I came home with 50 watercolors I made in Pyongyang, and will exhibit them later this fall and winter.

They are special and precious to me since they have a nerve from the creation in Pyongyang.

I feel sorry for the North Korean artists because I think they feel very isolated and would appreciate more contact with artists out in the international art scene. I hope many more artists would also like to meet them and help them create a bridge to connect them to us.

As to accusations that we were followed everywhere we went, I had the pleasure of walking everyday alone, even in the morning rush, to see the people in Pyongyang go to work and it was really interesting.

I even did some jogging alone in the city and also went alone to a public sauna and talked to the local people there about history and politics.

I also was free to take pictures mostly of what I wanted except for some places like the mausoleum where the body of Kim Il-sung rest and some holy places.

Newspaper headline: Reaching out


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