After escape from North Korea, artist turns from propaganda to pop art

Posted filed underKorea, Pop Art, Propaganda, Shows.


“I risked my life on this painting,” Song Byeok says of “Take Off Your Clothes,” which created a stir by putting the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in a Marilyn Monroe pose. “In some ways, this picture represents me,” Song said. “I hope after North Korean society opens up, people will debate it.” It is used on this poster to promote Song’s recent exhibit in Atlanta.

CNN reports: “Song Byeok had every reason to be pleased with his success. A gift for drawing led to a prestigious career as a propaganda artist and full membership in North Korea’s communist party.

Then the food shortages started.

Like tens of thousands of other North Koreans in the mid-1990s, Song made forays across the Tumen River to find food in China. Despite witnessing a better material life across the border, he says, he never doubted that North Korea was culturally superior. He never considered leaving his homeland for anything more than food.

“I was a believer. I saw North Koreans as pure,” Song said. “And we needed the Great Leader to protect us from outsiders.”

Today, Song paints in Seoul, South Korea, his art haunted by his former whole-hearted belief in the North Korean regime. Song’s paintings chronicle a personal, often agonizing journey from child-like allegiance to the country’s founder and “Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung, and his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, to Song’s life today as a contemporary artist.

In his former life, he would paint boyish-looking soldiers with heroic features across an entire side of a factory to inspire workers with the same patriotism he believed in.

His current paintings explore themes of freedom while skewering his former devotion to North Korea’s leaders. He paints children in military uniforms, their heads bowed and eyes closed. His trademark work shows Kim Jong Il’s face atop Marilyn Monroe’s famous film pose on a sidewalk grate, holding down her skirt as it billows around her hips.

The painting created a stir in South Korea, where American Greg Pence saw it and raised funds on Kickstarter to exhibit Song’s work this winter in Washington and Atlanta.”

Read on at CNN.

- Show in Atlanta – Song Byeok: Departure

- www.songbyeok.com

FOREVER FREEDOM: Song Byeok

North Korean Defector Artist Song Byeok’s Story. His life and his art.

Song Byeok – Atlanta Exhibition