North Korea’s ‘biggest’ export

Samora Machel statueImage copyright

North Korea doesn’t have much the world wants to buy, but one very successful export has been its art. The BBC’s Lawrence Pollard looks at an unlikely story of North Korean cultural influence, and its success in Africa in particular.

It may surprise you to know that North Korea would love to carry out your artistic commissions. How about a mural, a tapestry, or a “jewel painting” coloured with powdered semi-precious stones?

Or something a bit more imposing, like a giant bronze statue of that dictator or liberator close to your heart? The Mansudae Art Studio is keen to hear from you.

Founded in 1959, it caters for North Korea’s considerable domestic propaganda needs. The huge statues, murals and banners you see being dutifully applauded at military processions – as well as the poster images that surround North Korean daily life – are all made by its 4,000 staff.

Image copyright

Image copyright

“It’s in the heart of Pyongyang, Mansudae is the name of the district,” says Pier Luigi Cecioni, an Italian who is the sole representative of the art factory to the outside world. “Actually, it’s more of a campus than a factory, more of a studio, the biggest in the world.”

They’ve just produced a giant embroidery for the Benetton fashion family and fitted out a museum in Cambodia, but it’s in Africa that Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP) has found the keenest appetite for its work.

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