An exhibition focused on North Korean graphics entitled “Made in Chosun: Graphics from Everyday Life in the DPRK” is currently on display at the Hongik Daehangno Artcenter until 7 April this spring.
Those interested in the Hermit Kingdom may recall the name of the exhibition from Nicholas Bronner’s similarly titled book “Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life in the DPRK.” Bronner is the founder of Koryo Tours, the Beijing-based tour company that organizes trips into North Korea, and has led tours there for 25 years. The book, as well as the exhibition, is a collection of graphics on ordinary North Korean goods he’s gathered over the years and includes items like propaganda posters, movie ticket stubs, wrapping paper, comic books and labels off cigarette cartons and canned foods.
Although Bronner exhibited at the House of Illustration in London last year, the Seoul exhibit includes video footage called “Enter Pyongyang” and sells goods made by North Korean defectors in a merchandise section of the exhibition called Pyongyang Supermarket. Culture & I Leaders, the local team curating “Made in Chosun,” contacted branding and design studio Filament who’ve run pop-ups since 2016 and worked with them to collaborate on merchandise for Pyongyang Supermarket.
Filament describes the temporary supermarket as “a lifestyle store project that aims to envision ourselves with North Koreans in the future, enjoying a cup of coffee, shopping and sharing a culture-driven lifestyle.” Available for purchase at the Made in Chosun exhibition are canned goods, rubber gloves, drip coffee bags, notebooks and posters and many of them are artworks in and of themselves. Curator Yoon Hye-jung says that the design of the cans are inspired by Andy Warhol and that a bright pink theme runs through the products to reflect “new-tro” (a new version of retro) trend currently in Seoul. Makgeolli or Korean rice wine and beer replicating the North Korean flavor is also available on site.
Yoon adds the exhibition has shown her how little some Koreans know about its northern neighbour. “There were a lot of twenty-somethings that didn’t even know there was a subway system in Pyongyang,” she says. “In South Korea, we haven’t had many opportunities to see content from the North. […] Maybe a painting or a poster every now and then, but there’s been quite little information about their daily lives.” She’s hoping the exhibition as well the pop-up shop can play a part in changing that.
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