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© RIA Novosti. Grigoriy Sisoev

Art show is more of a freak show

by at 19/01/2011 14:00

A rather fetching female traffic cop, in a spotless white uniform, stands beneath a bizarre umbrella-streetlamp-halo contraption as the traffic of Pyongyang swishes past.

It’s a strange, surreal image from a secretive land – and it’s one of the highlights of an on-going exhibition at Winzavod.

Not many people know much about North Korea – but this show gives a rare peek behind the frontiers of the secretive communist state.

Of course, contemporary art under the Kims is hardly the kind of rabble-rousing anti-authoritarian experiment that the likes of Voina might take for granted.

And it’s hardly likely that anarchic avant-garde guru Banksy would be willing to splash out to allow a state-sponsored artistic collective to continue to push its relentlessly upbeat view of life in the People’s Republic.

While the curators make a brave attempt to suggest that it’s more than just production line propaganda, and while the artists do not lack for technique, it’s a spectacle for gawpers as much as art lovers.

Faces come in two expressions: beaming joy and happiness or grim resolve and determination.

The former applies to anything from a family outing to the zoo to the prospect of “taming the western seas”.

Extra delight can be afforded for sporting success – a women’s football win over the imperialist USA is commemorated in mosaic while qualification for last summer’s World Cup gets the full heroic treatment with ticker-tape and humble jubilation.

Meanwhile the lantern jaws are trotted out for paintings like “We will defend our flag by all possible means”, and depictions of brave soldiers giving their all to preserve the homeland.

It’s all good stuff, but the real point-and-stare moments come from the video screens.

Extended footage of an epic gymnastic-dance-folklore show in a huge arena tells the story of North Korea’s tortured history – and aims to symbolically reunite the peninsula once again.

But it’s the rows of uniformed spectators applauding rhythmically for the cameras which lingers in the mind longer than the cheer-leading on the stage.

Against that background, a lack of top-notch flashmob pranksters looks like the least of the country’s current problems.


“I podo ldom techet voda” (And water flows beneath the ice), Contemporary art from North Korea. White Hall, Winzavod, 4th Syromyatnichisky Per., m. Chkalovskaya, Kurskaya. Tues-Sun, midday – 8 pm. To Jan. 30


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