Accessibility links

North Korean Painter Brushes Away Taboos About Kim Jong Il


North Korea's recent rocket launch and its reappointment of Kim Jong Il as military chief are reminders to the world of the North Korean leader's potential ability to threaten regional security. But one North Korean refugee is giving the world a look at Kim Jong Il in a much less austere light.

The face of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il - not waving at the masses from a balcony, but lying on his back in a hospital bed.

"Kim Jong Il is sick, so the child is giving him Coke as a medicine," Artist Sun Mu explains. "I chose Coke as a symbol of North Korea's need to open up."

[It is] Artist Sun Mu's cynical view of the North Korean leader, and the stroke he is believed to have suffered last year - who as a child was brought up to worship Kim.

Sun Mu - not his real name - defected to South Korea eight years ago. He still has family in North Korea, so he does not show his face on camera - earning him the nickname "faceless artist."

But his pop culture spin on North Korea is getting him more and more attention.

This poster is a print of another Sun Mu painting that features Kim Jong Il striking a jazzy pose in a bright pink track suit. It recently sold to a prominent South Korean for about $5,000.

Sun Mu readily admits any of these images would have gotten him sent to prison or executed in the North, where the Kim Jong Il and members of his family are treated like Gods.

"To paint the Kim family, you must not only have great skill, but you must come from the very highest social status," he said. "I'm not sure what the exact standard was, but I know I wouldn't have met it in any case."

Sun Mu puts a lot of pink in his paintings, like this one of the North Korean boy scout logo. He says it represents the paradise North Koreans are taught to believe they inhabit.

One painting, a four-panel mural showing the difference between young people in the two Koreas, shows North Korean children knee-deep in the pink.

"Their covered legs represent how soaked they are in the pink world of North Korea, but over at the edge, there are some children wondering about escaping to the outside," he said. "Then on the left side, I wanted to express the freedom I saw in the South when I attended university in Seoul. This side is mobilized by freedom - the other side is mobilized by ideology."

Sun Mu says sales of his paintings are not making him rich, but they are keeping him from going hungry - something he says he could not take for granted when he lived in North Korea.
XS
SM
MD
LG