White tiger, dim horse: North Korean art marketplace heats up


DANDONG, China (Reuters) – Seated underneath high windows and dressed simply in singlets and trousers, North Korean painters are tough during work. The artists tack canvases to frames or duplicate halcyon landscapes from laptop computers. One wears headphones as he brushes a organisation of using horses onto his canvas.

The 9 group have come to a Chinese limit city of Dandong from Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s largest writer of art. There are many outlets like this along a border; they residence some of a thousands of North Korean artists who support to burgeoning approach for their work. “Chinese have begun collecting art, and North Korean art is many easier and cheaper for them to obtain,” says Park Young-jeong, a investigate associate during a Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, a Seoul-based organization.

In new years as countries have responded to North Korea’s weapons tests with sanctions, Mansudae and other art studios have increasingly played a some-more argumentative purpose – assisting Pyongyang lift money abroad. North Korea has prolonged been punished for purported sly sell in minerals, financial and arms; art was seen some-more as a channel for mutual understanding. That is changing.

Mansudae is run by a North Korean state. Its outlay ranges from statues of tellurian leaders to promotion posters, elaboration and more. It has built monuments and statues in during slightest 15 African countries, according to eccentric United Nations sanctions experts.

In a news in February, they pronounced that a partial of Mansudae called Mansudae Overseas Projects was a front for a North Korean state to money in on troops deals. As good as staggering statues, they found it built troops installations such as a munitions bureau and bases in Namibia.

The North Korean U.N. goal did not respond to a ask for criticism and no one from Mansudae could be reached.

The U.N. Security Council criminialized Mansudae’s statue business in 2016. On Aug. 5, after Pyongyang conducted some-more weapons tests, a Security Council blacklisted Mansudae Art Studio, subjecting it to a tellurian item solidify and transport ban. Diplomats contend this will forestall Mansudae from conducting business.

“With this listing, anything Mansudae produces – including paintings, other artwork, monuments, buildings, and other construction – can't be bought and should be solidified per a item freeze,” pronounced a U.N. Security Council diplomat, vocalization on condition of anonymity.

In a serve fortitude on Sept. 11, a Security Council motionless that all corner ventures with North Korean entities or people contingency be close down within 120 days, or by mid-January.

Exactly what a measures meant for existent Mansudae art has nonetheless to turn clear. In Beijing’s art district, a gallery called a Mansudae Art Gallery says it is a studio’s central abroad gallery. Its conduct insists a sanctions do not ask to it and says they have had no impact on his business.  

    “Now some-more than ever we need avenues like art to emanate bargain between North Korea and a rest of a world,” pronounced Ji Zhengtai.

It is not probable to guess a sum value of Mansudae’s dealings, though a Security Council diplomat pronounced a business had warranted tens of millions of dollars globally.


    Mansudaeartsudio.com, a website in Italy that calls itself Mansudae’s “official website abroad,” says a studio is “probably a largest art prolongation core in a world.”

Mansudae’s Pyongyang studio covers 120,000 sq m (nearly 30 acres), employs about 4,000 people including around 1,000 artists, and is divided into 13 artistic groups, 7 production plants and some-more than 50 supply departments, a website says.

    The website is run by Pier Luigi Cecioni, who sells Mansudae works online and during fairs by what he calls an disdainful agreement with Mansudae Art Studio. He declined to contend how many he sells, though in Aug after a sanctions on Mansudae Art Studio were announced, he told Reuters that a revenues go approach to a studio to compensate for paints and equipment.

Cecioni pronounced he sells works from his personal collection, many of them bought several years ago – before sanctions on Mansudae were announced. His website creates transparent that any online squeeze is done with his Italian company, not Mansudae. U.N. sanctions are not retroactive.

A row of eccentric experts is charged with monitoring U.N. sanctions on North Korea. It reports violations and recommendations to a Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee. Its reports are confidential, though a cabinet traditionally publishes annual reports.

Hugh Griffiths, who heads a panel, declined to comment, observant “the matter is theme to an ongoing investigation.”

Cecioni said, “the final thing we wish is to have difficulty with Italian or American authorities. we have clever contacts, generally with a Italian ones, and they assistance me to honour all a rules.” An Italian unfamiliar method source pronounced it is prevalent to keep hit with everybody who has ties to countries underneath sanctions, to safeguard they honour Italy’s general commitments.

In September, Cecioni pronounced that he had no skeleton to close down his operation. “I cruise it unequivocally critical to let people know that … North Koreans do not make customarily bombs though also art and are common people,” he said. He deferred an muster of promotion posters he had designed for Sep in Treviso, though pronounced this was given Mansudae’s member told him they suspicion it foolish to showcase their anti-U.S. tinge in a stream climate.

Word of a sanctions has been slower to strech China. A round from a Commerce Ministry announcing a start date of a measures that enclosed Mansudae Art Studio does not name Mansudae. Asked because not, a method did not respond.

    The Dandong core works in partnership with Mansudae, pronounced a manager, Gai Longji. Asked on a day a sanctions took outcome if they were inspiring business, he did not answer directly.

“We don’t do politics,” he said. “We do art.” Liaoning Sanyi, a organisation behind a center, did not respond to a ask for comment.



Reuters spoke to during slightest 30 experts – collectors, art historians, academics and people who have sole North Korean art globally. Many pronounced a marketplace for paintings is niche and amounts to small in terms of income compared with a billion-plus dollars North Korea has lifted each year offered spark and other minerals abroad.

    Even so, they contend North Korean diplomats in Europe have been eager to foster art exhibitions with a elementary aim of bringing in tough currency.

   In China, approach has unequivocally taken off. Dandong is a renouned captivate for tourists who come to sight during North Koreans over a Yalu River border. Busloads of tourists uncover adult each morning. Visitors representation a North Korean specialty of noodles in cold soup, watch North Korean women sing and dance, and buy North Korean paintings. 

    Besides Mansudae, customarily about each method and roughly all a internal authorities in North Korea have an art studio, pronounced Koen De Ceuster, a techer in Korean studies during Leiden University who has been study North Korean art for over a decade. “There’s studios all opposite a country,” he said.  

Other distinguished studio names embody Paekho and a Central Arts Studio. Paekho, that means “white tiger” in Korean, is a biggest seller of renouned paintings in Dandong, traders there said. Collectors who have dealt with Paekho contend it is run by North Korea’s troops – Reuters could not exclusively settle this. Paekho’s sundry outlay includes promotion posters job for a nuclear-free world.

The Dandong core that Reuters visited has hosted around 500 North Korean artists given 2014, manager Gai said. They stay for between 6 months and 3 years.

Many Dandong galleries residence North Korean painters. Staff there pronounced they have sole North Korean paintings for as many as $100,000 to buyers around a world. Art experts determine a pieces can unequivocally spasmodic fetch six-figure sums.

Not all a deduction go to Pyongyang. Mark-ups can strech 4 or 5 times a dealer’s squeeze price, according to one Dandong dealer.


While a Security Council’s Aug. 5 sanctions targeted customarily Mansudae, a Sep fortitude on corner ventures also enclosed restrictions on North Korean labor: This multiple could harm everybody in a art business, Dandong traders say.

But there are ways around a measures, they add. For instance, paintings from Mansudae could be sole underneath a name of an art studio that hasn’t been sanctioned. Artists come to China underneath informative sell visas, not as workers. And dual businessmen pronounced paintings have prolonged been supposed instead of money in a trade deals that fuel a region’s economy.

    At a other finish of a limit from Dandong in a city of Yanji, Chinese antiques play Zhao Xiangchen pronounced people customarily hurl adult a integrate of paintings and lift them sensitively opposite a limit to him.

    His antiques case was thick with dirt as he camped in a empty container subsequent door, offered a paintings online.

    Since a sanctions were announced, Zhao said, Chinese etiquette have turn some-more vigilant.

    “But I‘m personification a prolonged game,” he said. “I still consider there’s outrageous implicit approach for North Korean art in a Chinese market, that’s customarily set to grow.”

Sue-Lin Wong reported from Dandong, Beijing and Yanji, Giselda Vagnoni from Rome, Fanny Potkin from London; With additional stating by Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Michelle Nichols and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and a Beijing newsroom; Edited by Sara Ledwith


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