The North Korean Art Factory Cranking Out Soviet-Style Monuments
Anyone can commission their own dictator-style sculpture.
The new standard in African public art? Mansudae Overseas Projects, the propaganda art factory run by the North Korean government. As reported by Slate, Mansudae’s ability to produce extremely large yet relatively affordable statues has attracted a number of unexpected clients, such as Senegal, which enlisted the company to create a 160-foot-tall bronze African Renaissance Monument in 2006. Based in Pyongyang, Mansudae Art Studio boasts an impressive 4,000 employees, a quarter of whom are artist-graduates of Pyongyang University and other national institutions. Mansudae’s colossal monuments show a distinct Soviet influence, such as their depictions of the vibrant and verdant North Korean countryside, or bright-eyed, smiling farm girls. The factory’s artists have the near-exclusive right to produce images of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un, as well as his father, Kim Jon-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sun.
Senegal is just one of 18 countries that have turned to Mansudae to manufacture monumental sculptures. Most clients are African or Asian, such as Namibia, which hired the North Korean studio to build its Heroes Acre war monument, but at least one western country has gotten in on the action: Mansudae rebuilt the Fairy Tale Fountain in Frankfurt, Germany. According to a Vice article published last year, the studio has earned an estimated $160 million for the North Korean government over the last 10 years. The African Renaissance Monument, commissioned in 2006 by Senegal’s then-president Abdoulaye Wade, depicts a shirtless man, holding up a baby in one hand, leading a woman with one exposed breast with the other. It is meant to symbolize the end of colonialism and slavery in Senegal, and was installed on a hill overlooking Dakar in 2010 during celebrations of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence from France. The Senegalese, unable to pony up the $27 million price tag on the work, gave North Korea land in exchange for the statue.
The statue has become a source of controversy in Senegal, where people questioned the construction of such an expensive artwork during a nationwide economic crisis. The country’s predominantly Muslim population has also taken issue with how scantily-clad the figures are. Wade’s 12-year regime was allegedly characterized by widespread corruption and nepotism, and he claims that he is personally entitled to 35 percent of revenue generated by visitors to the statue, which remains surrounded by garbage and unfinished construction. If you take an elevator to the top, however, you are afforded sweeping views of Dakar. Despite the international popularity of North Korean statuary, the country does outsource some of its own propaganda monuments. As reported by artnet News, North Koreans practically worship waxworks of Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung, and his wife, created by Chinese waxwork master Zhang Molei.
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