North Korean Propaganda Wins Us Over In This Superb Exhibition

Made in Korea, House of Illustration ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 70 months ago

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North Korean Propaganda Wins Us Over In This Superb Exhibition Made in Korea, House of Illustration 5
This man is fully behind the people's economic plan, are you? Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photo: Justin Piperger.

A woman smiles, welcoming us to gaze over all the fantastic consumer goods on display. Two men beam as they look into the distance with architectural plans in hand, imagining their new project. Where could this patriarchal utopia be? North Korea, that’s where.

That’s right, these posters are designed to promote what a wonderful place North Korea is. They are just two examples of the fantastic posters, illustrations and ephemera in this superb exhibition at House of Illustration.

Chcolate box art, North Korean style. Image courtesy Phaidon.

The posters are so over the top, there’s some humour to be found in them. In a mountain scene it’s not just the goatherd who is smiling, the goats themselves appear to have smirks on their faces.

A man hauls in a catch of fish  during winter — stinking fish and the bitter cold would ruin anyone’s day, but he’s been fed the propaganda pills and is grinning like the Joker.

The pervasive nature of North Korea’s branding is impressive with cigarette packets displaying national buildings, the torch representing the country’s ideology or the revolutionary red flag. The propaganda machine just doesn't miss a trick, the big corporate brands have nothing on these guys.

Here's a ticket to a military and people's parade. It's all about the people, it's in the name of the country. Image courtesy Phaidon.

The gallery has gone all out and covered the walls with pictures of North Korean stamps, though the one commemorating Princess Diana and her marriage to Prince Charles took us by surprise. Looks like that event managed to transcend the country’s tight borders — we guess that makes her the Democratic People’s (Republic of Korea) Princess too.

There are lapel pins, hotel do not disturb signs, plane tickets, postcards and everything else you would expect to see if you were to visit North Korea as a tourist.

North Korean biscuits, yum. Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photo: Phaidon.

The tacky lenticular postcards of nature, birds and famous buildings are just like those you'd find in any other country. It’s a nice reminder that for all the oddities about North Korea, it’s not a completely alien world.

We only need to watch the news to realise how topical this exhibition is amid the concerns around Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear arsenal. The exhibition doesn’t take the easy route of politicising the works as a critique of the regime — there are plenty of newspaper and magazine articles that do this much better than an exhibition ever could.

An invite to the 55th anniversary of the founding of DPRK, count us in. Image courtesy Phaidon.

What House of Illustration has done is immerse us in what we would expect to find in this isolated nation if we visited. If we were subjected to this level of propaganda in our daily lives and not given access to the outside world, then we’d probably be convinced by the poster that declares ‘Everything for the full achievement of the People’s Economic Plan!’

Maybe it’s just the propaganda speaking but we absolutely loved this exhibition and we advise all to carry out the Party’s foreign trade policy… sorry, visit this exhibition.

Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics from the DPRK is on at House of Illustration until 13 May. Tickets are £8.25 for adults.

Last Updated 19 April 2018