Artist Uses Subversive Humor to Puncture N.Korean Regime

      March 01, 2011 07:46

      Kim Hwang

      "Hello. Pleased to meet you. As those who have already been to the Byolmuri Cafe in Pyongyang may know, thanks to our dear leader Gen. Kim Jong-il, the people of North Korea can enjoy pizza now. But booking is a must. It's extremely difficult to get a taste of pizza," says the woman in the video clip. She then introduces a pizza recipe delivered by an amateurishly filmed man who fries up a kind of potato pizza in a small kitchen rather than joining the long waiting list at the Byolmuri Cafe. The woman's accent, the kitchen and the image quality of the video clip have an authentic North Korean feel.

      But the clip is the work of Kim Hwang, a 31-year-old graduate from the Royal College of Arts in London. "North Korea's only pizzeria in Pyongyang is a symbol of the cultural blockade and represents the rigid class system in the country since it's only available to the very privileged," Kim says. "I decided to make the video because I wanted to express how wrong the North Korean political regime is through art."

      He shot the clip with the help of 10 North Korean defectors and labeled it "Star Pizza." He flew to Dandong, China, in June 2010 with 500 copies of the DVD and distributed 100 each to five Korean Chinese who regularly visit Pyongyang. They circulated the DVD in the black market in the city.

      A month later, Kim received an e-mail with a video clip showing North Koreans making pizza and singing a North Korean popular song with accordion accompaniment. He also received pictures of people with the DVD, pizzas they made, and messages like "We enjoyed the pizzas." Kim will release a compilation of the entire project in April under the title "Pizza for the People."   

      Kim majored in Product Design at the RCA, and is interested in critical design which deals with social issues. "When I introduced myself as a Korean while studying in Britain, I was often asked whether I was from the North or the South," Kim says. "That inevitably put me in a position where I had to think about my identity as a Korean artist."

      The first and the only pizzeria in North Korea, which opened in December 2008 in Pyongyang at the orders of Kim Jong-il, made headlines in the U.K as well, and so the project was born. Kim then spent a year researching North Korea and interviewing defectors.    

      He made contact with a Korean-Chinese smuggler in Dandong in January last year and studied the route to the black market that South Korean films, TV dramas and music take. "I filmed a video featuring two young men and a woman who look and sound as if they're from Pyongyang, meaning trendsetters in North Korea, introducing the pizza recipe," he says. A total of 35 people including 10 defectors took part in the making of the DVD in May last year. It was shot in Hwanghak-dong and Mia-dong in Seoul.

      There are three other sections of five minute each, on how to pack for an overseas trip, how to get CDs of South Korean pop songs, and how to celebrate Christmas.

      "When I got my first feedback from people in North Korea, I felt fear and elation at once," he says. "Some people ask me what the difference is between my project and sending propaganda flyers to North Korea, but I believe my project stands between propaganda and art. I hope it can give ordinary people in North Korea a nudge."

      "I don't have grandiose dreams that my work will contribute to the reunification of the peninsula. Like the rabbits who made holes in the Berlin Wall, I'm quite happy to nibble away at it."

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