China is frequently referred to as North Korea’s “big brother,” a sibling-nation that supports (and sometimes scolds) its far smaller neighbour.
In a fascinating experiment, two Western expats in Beijing — Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours and Dominic Johnson-Hill of Plastered 8 — asked North Korean propaganda artists in Pyongyang to help them create images of a socialist ideal of China. The artwork is titled “The Beautiful Future” and was recently shown at a Beijing art gallery.
Bonner and Johnson-Hill had been living in China for 20 years, and wanted to show a glimpse of what Socialism with Chinese characteristics could have been. Bonner organizes tours to the Hermit Kingdom, while Johnson-Hill’s company produces clothing with elements of Maoist kitsch.
“North Korean artists are the best people at delivering a message without slogans,” Bonner told The Guardian.”We wanted to show contemporary China as it could have been, if it had continued with Maoist ideology.”
As Matt Schiavenza of The Atlantic points out, what’s really fascinating about these images isn’t what they say about China — it’s what they say about North Korea and North Korea’s visions of China, a country only a tiny fraction of North Koreans have visited.
We’ve included a few of the images below, with short explanations.
This painting, titled “CCTV Tower With Bountiful Harvest” shows not only the iconic building of China’s state-run television agency in the background, but happy citizens enjoying China’s ample harvest.
“Bird’s Nest, Home Of The People” shows the Beijing National Stadium, built for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and people playing nearby.
In “City Migration,” people queue to get into what appears to be a space rocket. This painting appears to be both a comment on China’s space ambition and the enormous migration of country’s rural population into cities in the last couple of decades.
“Office Culture For Prosperity” reimagines traditional socialist propaganda paintings of farmers and industrial workers for an age of white collar office jobs.
In “KTV Gives Us A Voice,” soldiers wearing old style People’s Liberation Army uniforms sing in a karaoke bar. KTV is an abbreviation of Karaoke Television.
“Disco Night To Enhance The Day” imagines how socialist propaganda would engage with a modern China’s nightlife.
In this painting, Chinese citizens frolic by Beijing’s National Aquatics Center. Note the modest swimwear worn by the women. The painting is called “Water Cube For Clean Air And Healthy Life.”
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