This week the Coningsby Gallery is hosting an exhibition which offers a rare glimpse of contemporary artworks from North Korea. The show, which opened on Sunday and runs until February 18, is entitled Chosun Paintings: Beyond Borders and Boundaries, and features landscape paintings and nature scenes by a selection of North Korean artists.
The Chosun technique of painting involves the use of ink on traditional paper-like material called ‘hanji’. Due to hanji being thin and fragile, a ‘one-stroke’ brush technique has evolved for painting on it – once a single brush stoke has been applied, more strokes cannot be applied on top of it, meaning delicacy and accuracy are needed with every swish of the brush.
This exhibition has been brought to London by father and daughter, Paul and Teresa Song, art collectors who describe themselves as ‘promoters of peace in the Korean peninsula’. It’s perhaps unsurprising that these decorative artwork are the kind of pieces emanating from such a tightly-controlled society as North Korea. ‘There is little room for interpretation in North Korean art,’ says Teresa. ‘As per Kim Jong Il’s order, art is for the people – everyone should be able to enjoy it equally, whether you are an artist or a worker. As a result, all paintings are very realistic in what they depict, so that there is no confusion. Abstract paintings do not exist in North Korea.’
Artists in North Korea are employed by the state and the kind of work they are allowed to create is strictly proscribed. Underground art is prohibited and any political art that is permitted is, of course, strictly of the pro-regime, propaganda variety. Teresa says, however, the North Korean government had no involvement in this exhibition and that her family does not want the show to be ‘seen or misconstrued as making a political statement of any sort’.
‘The objective of this exhibition is to raise awareness of the talent and culture that is present in North Korea, allowing a different insight into the country,’ she adds. Chosun Paintings does do that, but for a Western audience the fascination will surely be both in the kind of art it showcases, and the kind of art it doesn’t. For more information, visit www.coningsbygallery.com