Norwegian Artists Plan North Korean Art School

Photo: Marcelo Druck/Flickr.

The Norwegian artists Henrik Placht and Morten Traavik have won approval from the North Korean government to create an international art school there. The duo visited the country earlier this month in search of potential patrons of their improbable project, which they plan to call DMZ after the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

“This institution is about building cultural relations,” Placht told Norway’s NRK. “It’s a bridge from Pyongyang to the outside world.”

Thus far Placht and Traavik have secured the support of the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, the Amsterdam-based organization created in honor of the late husband of Beatrix of the Netherlands, though the foundation refused to speak to NRK about its participation. The school will serve North Korean art students primarily, though it will also seek to foster exchange programs with schools outside the country.

“One of the reasons for us going to North Korea is that we don’t believe in sanctions and the boycott of art,” Placht told the Art Newspaper. “Next year we are planning an exhibition and workshop in North Korea, in co-operation with the North Korean government, which will feature well-known international artists as well as North Korean artists.”

Traavik, for his part, has already worked extensively with the North Korean government. In 2012 he brought two organizers of massive, coordinated parades from North Korean to Norway to lead a platoon of 220 Norwegian soldiers in a series of mass image-making exercises. The same year he curated a festival of Norwegian culture in Pyongyang. Those projects drew a great deal of criticism as observers charged Traavik and the Norwegian government agencies backing him of tacitly supporting North Korea’s brutally repressive totalitarian regime.

For the time being, skeptics are more concerned about Traavik and Placht’s ability to replicate the very high academic standards maintained by Norwegian schools in Pyongyang.

“There is an issue related to making sure that the quality of education is just as good as the one we have here in Norway,” Cecilie Broch Knutsen, rector of Oslo’s School of Fine Arts, told NRK. “It seems to me that it will be very difficult to achieve in North Korea.”

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