UN sanctions take aim at popular North Korean statue exports

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/29 18:53:39

Tourists visit <em>African Renaissance</em>, a monument built by North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio, in  Senegal's capital of Dakar in May 2011. Photo: IC

Tourists visit African Renaissance, a monument built by North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio, in Senegal's capital of Dakar in May 2011. Photo: IC

Standing many meters tall, numerous giant bronze statues in many cities throughout Africa inspire awe in all who see them.

These statues are symbols of local culture and patriotism, so visitors may be surprised to find that they were actually built by a company located in far off North Korea.

However, recent events may spell an end to the further creation of these types of statues in the future.

In response to a North Korean nuclear test in September, 15 members of the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2321 on November 30 to cap North Korea's coal exports, as well as ban the export of certain minerals and the sale of statues.

A Sky News report from November 30 quotes UN diplomats saying that the sanctions on statues, which are mainly sold to African countries, will cut tens of millions of dollars from Pyongyang's income. 

Promising industry

North Korea's statue exports made headlines in February as media reported that the production of giant sculptures had become a significant means for North Korea to bring in hard currency from foreign markets, African countries in particular.

According to these reports, most of these statues were created by the Mansudae Art Studio, by far the largest and most important such studio in North Korea.

According to Mansudae's official website, the company, founded in 1959, employs nearly 4,000 people, 1,000 of which are artists.

Italian employee Pier Luigi Cecioni, the sole foreign representative of the art factory, once described the company's headquarters located in the heart of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang as "more of a campus than a factory" and "the biggest in the world."

The company's website writes that the company headquarters encompasses an area of more than 120,000 square meters, of which 80,000 square meters are indoor areas.

"They've just produced a giant embroidery for the Benetton fashion family and fitted out a museum in Cambodia, but it's in Africa that Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP) has found the keenest appetite for its work," writes a February report by the BBC.

According to the BBC, North Korean statue exports got its start in the early 1980s as a "diplomatic gift" to "socialist or non-aligned countries from their North Korean brothers," and recently became "a valuable source of hard currency," covering a series of African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Togo.

According to a December report from Reuters, the industry brings in roughly $10 million annually.

Patriotic style

"These sculptures are giant and magnificent," Li Xingjian, a scholar at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts who has visited North Korea for cultural exchanges, told the Global Times on Thursday.

According to Li, Soviet influence on North Korean sculptures has made them very similar to the statue of Chairman Mao and other monuments that memorialize revolutionary martyrs found in China.

"However, North Korea focuses more on statues of leaders while China's focus is on large-scale ones that memorialize revolutionaries."

As for the giant bronze sculptures North Korea is exporting to African countries, most of these express themes such as "freedom" and "rebellion."

Heroes Acre in the southwest African country of Namibia, for example, depicts a soldier throwing a grenade with his right hand while holding a machine gun in his left hand.

Some of the bolder statues have even stirred some controversy among locals. For instance, African Renaissance, a monument in Senegal, challenged people's sensibilities by depicting a half-naked couple with an infant. The woman's exposed right breast was considered particularly offensive to the local Muslim population.

Last bastion of realist art

So how does a North Korean art factory end up building statues halfway around the world? 

The February BBC report gives two main reasons as to why African leaders are so attracted to North Korean statues. The first reason comes down to price.

"Senegal paid for its 49 meter-high statue by giving some land to the North Koreans - who immediately sold it for cash."

The second reason is that these statues have held onto a realistic style that is now rarely seen in Russian and Chinese art, art critic William Feaver told the BBC in the report.

"The appeal is in the statement of the obvious - and of course size is everything."

Global Times
Newspaper headline: Industry under fire

Posted in: ART

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