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N. Korea flaunts laptops, football skills in Moscow art show

Jan. 5, 2011 - 18:52 By 김후란
MOSCOW (AFP) -- A ponytailed worker taps on a laptop and rosy-cheeked children sport baseball caps in a rare exhibition of contemporary North Korean art that is now on display at a trendy Moscow gallery.

The exhibition, titled “Water Still Flows Under Ice,” addresses themes such as World Cup football, new technology and Western fashion. It is running at Winzavod, a brick-walled former factory that usually hosts cutting-edge shows.

In one painting, children wearing T-shirts and baseball caps gaze at monkeys at a zoo.

In another, a female engineer with a helmet over her ponytail taps on a laptop with no visible brand name.

None of the works have been shown before outside the isolated Stalinist state, organizers of the show said. They called the exhibition “unprecedented” and “attempt to break the ideological ice.”

The art is “post-Socialist Realism,” said Winzavod gallery’s director, Sofiya Trotsenko, referring to the Soviet idea of carrying a political message to the masses through folksy scenes of socialist triumphs.

She stressed the exhibition, which opened this month and runs to the end of January, was not intended as propaganda, despite being endorsed by the North Korean government.

“This exhibition is not propagandizing anything,” Trotsenko told AFP. “We do not make any judgments. We just show (the art) and it’s your business to draw conclusions on what you see.”

Much of the art dates from 2009 and this year. A painting from 2009 shows North Korea’s football team wildly celebrating a win. It was presumably commissioned after the country qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

Titled “Winners,” it shows crowds cheering and footballers waving a giant national flag. In reality, North Korea took one goal against Brazil but then lost 7-0 to Portugal.

All the art comes from the Mansude studio in Pyongyang, the vast workshop of the most favored official artists, who create public art such as patriotic mosaics in the metro.

The organizers said they tried to select works that were not overtly political, however.

“We wanted to show domestic things, we wanted specifically to show daily life,” Trotsenko said.

She said she got the idea for the exhibition after she visited North Korea as a tourist and went on an excursion to the art studio in Pyongyang.

“There isn’t a single portrait of the Great Leader. Everything here is about private life,” said one of the curators, artist Oleg Kulik. “We thought it was interesting to do an exhibition that was not ideological.”

Nevertheless, scenes such as plump babies lying in a hi-tech maternity ward look unlikely in a country, where it is feared that malnutrition has stunted generations.

Kulik, an outrageous artist best known for his naked performances as a dog, designed the exhibition‘s layout, with pink neon lighting and an installation that shows army helmets hanging over a bowl of rice.

He called it “a metaphor for the condition of North Korea.”

The exhibition comes after Vienna’s MAK museum opened a major retrospective of North Korean art, titled “Flowers for Kim Il Sung,” in May, provoking a hail of criticism for its lack of comment on the political situation.