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North Korean Art Market Growing

2017-10-11

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[00:00.00]
  • Seated under tall windows and wearing simple clothing, North Korean painters are hard at work in China.
  • [00:10.88]
  • The nine artists are putting canvases on picture frames and copying landscape images from computers.
  • [00:20.61]
  • One artist listens to an electronic device as he paints a group of running horses onto his canvas.
  • [00:30.88]
  • The artists, all of them men, have come to the Chinese border town of Dandong from Mansudae Art Studio.
  • [00:41.41]
  • That art studio is North Korea's largest producer of art.
  • [00:47.42]
  • Other North Korean artists work in similar businesses along the border.
  • [00:53.43]
  • "Chinese have begun collecting art, and North Korean art is much easier and cheaper for them to obtain," said Park Young-jeong.
  • [01:05.73]
  • He is with the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, a group based in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
  • [01:15.06]
  • The North Korean government operates Mansudae.
  • [01:19.35]
  • The art studio creates statutes, wall posters and more.
  • [01:25.20]
  • United Nations experts say it has built statues and markers in at least 15 African countries.
  • [01:35.20]
  • The experts reported in February that a part of the business, called Mansudae Overseas Projects, helps the North Korean government raise money.
  • [01:47.39]
  • A diplomat at the North’s diplomatic office in Geneva said Mansudae had nothing to do with financing for weapons manufacturing.
  • [01:58.09]
  • The Reuters news agency reported that no one from the arts studio could be reached.
  • [02:05.89]
  • The U.N. Security Council banned Mansudae's statue business in 2016.
  • [02:12.43]
  • Two months ago, Council members blacklisted the art studio after the North Korean government carried out weapons tests.
  • [02:23.18]
  • Diplomats say the U.N. action will prevent the studio from doing business.
  • [02:29.47]
  • "With this listing, anything Mansudae produces cannot be bought and should be frozen per the asset freeze," said a Security Council diplomat who did not want to be identified.
  • [02:45.44]
  • What do the Security Council's measures mean for existing Mansudae art?
  • [02:51.30]
  • In Beijing, a business called the Mansudae Art Gallery claims to be the studio's official overseas gallery.
  • [03:00.80]
  • Its head said the U.N. sanctions have had no effect on his business.
  • [03:08.09]
  • The Dandong Center, on the Chinese border, works with Mansudae, said its chief, Gai Longji.
  • [03:17.70]
  • Asked on the day the sanctions took effect if they would hurt the art studio, he did not answer directly.
  • [03:26.67]
  • "We don't do politics," he said. "We do art."
  • [03:31.54]
  • The Reuters news agency spoke to at least 30 art experts and people who have sold North Korean art.
  • [03:40.68]
  • Many said that the market for such art does not earn much money – especially in comparison to the possible billion dollars North Korea raises each year by selling coal and other minerals.
  • [03:57.73]
  • In China, the demand for North Korean art has been growing.
  • [04:03.03]
  • Dandong is a popular attraction for travelers.
  • [04:07.74]
  • Visitors try North Korean food, watch North Korean women sing and dance, and buy North Korean paintings.
  • [04:17.64]
  • Koen De Ceuster teaches Korean studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands.
  • [04:25.68]
  • He said Mansudae is not the only business selling North Korean artwork.
  • [04:32.60]
  • "There's studios all across the country," he said.
  • [04:37.95]
  • Other famous studio names include Paekho and the Central Arts Studio.
  • [04:44.98]
  • Even with the sanctions, the art studios are still able to do business, Dandong traders say.
  • [04:54.85]
  • Paintings from Mansudae could be sold under the name of an art studio that is yet to be named in U.N. sanctions.
  • [05:05.68]
  • Two businessmen said paintings have long been accepted instead of money in the region.
  • [05:13.43]
  • In the Chinese city of Yanjing, antiques dealer Zhao Xiangchen said people usually roll up one or two paintings and carry them across the border to him.
  • [05:27.64]
  • Since the sanctions were announced, Zhao said, Chinese customs officials have become more watchful.
  • [05:36.84]
  • "But I'm playing the long game," he said.
  • [05:40.62]
  • "I still think there's a huge latent demand for North Korean art in the Chinese market, that's only set to grow."
  • [05:51.88]
  • I'm Lucija Millonig.
  • [05:54.25]
  • And I'm John Russell.
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