Song Byeok's paintings are

Korean Pop Art

  • Once a propagandist, defector Song Byeok today paints satirical works about North Korea
  • Their paintings dwell on miseries of life in the homeland, pleasure for the freedoms he found in the South
  • From a nation of 25 million, just about 20, 000 North Korean defectors are now living in the Southern
  • Tune is upbeat brand new leader Kim Jong Un are an agent for change

Tune Byeok had every reason enough to be pleased about his success. A gift for attracting resulted in a prestigious job as a propaganda artist and complete membership in North Korea's communist celebration.

Then meals shortages began.

Like tens of thousands of various other North Koreans in mid-1990s, tune made forays across the Tumen River to get meals in China. Despite witnessing an improved product life throughout the border, he states, he never ever doubted that North Korea had been culturally superior. He never considered leaving their homeland for anything more than meals.

"I was a believer. We saw North Koreans as pure, " tune said. "And we needed the Great Leader to safeguard us from outsiders."

These days, tune paints in Seoul, Southern Korea, their art haunted by their former whole-hearted belief when you look at the North Korean regime. Song's paintings chronicle a personal, frequently agonizing journey from child-like allegiance to your country's founder and "Great Leader, " Kim Il Sung, along with his son, "Dear chief" Kim Jong Il, to Tune's life today as a contemporary singer.

Inside the former life, however decorate boyish-looking soldiers with brave functions across a complete part of a factory to encourage workers with the same patriotism he thought in.

His present paintings explore themes of freedom while skewering their former commitment to North Korea's leaders. He paints kiddies in military uniforms, their minds bowed and eyes shut. His trademark work shows Kim Jong Il's face atop Marilyn Monroe's popular movie pose on a sidewalk grate, keeping down her top whilst billows around the woman sides.

Tune is enthusiastic and sometimes brooding whenever speaking about North Korea but gracious and open about their deeply personal passage from propaganda musician to painter which anguishes over oppression in North Korea.

Song's journey to disbelief began when he watched, helpless, as his father had been caught in a current during a river crossing to China and drowned. Song had been halfway across whenever his daddy had been swept away; he swam back but ended up being struggling to rescue him. Despondent, Song looked for his dad's human anatomy over the riverbank but was grabbed by North Korean border guards.

Despite his ranking as a party user, getting caught meant questioning and torture by North Korean guards to confirm he had not been working for the Southern Koreans or the international missionaries located in China just who proselytize among defectors.

"There were no exclusions, " he stated. "All who're caught are investigated."

The torment of perhaps not recuperating their father's keeps had been a great deal more than the damaged teeth and beatings, Song said. The beatings had been therefore harsh, he stated, he was near to demise, in which he thinks that he was released so he'd maybe not die in custody.

A lot more than bones, the guards' treatment smashed Song's belief into the regime. He describes the minute he left jail like a veil was in fact raised: He saw the whole world with a brand new quality. As he hobbled through streets, wondering exactly how he would get home, he decided he desired a unique life. He chose to defect.

In a country of 25 million, just about 20, 000 have defected and satisfied in South Korea, in accordance with the South Korean federal government. There are no precise numbers for just how many defectors reside in concealing in Asia; estimates from governing bodies, scientists and non-governmental organizations differ from 25, 000 to a lot more than 400, 000.

"When people tend to be acquired in China and repatriated, they face prosecution back in North Korea if they are thought to have satisfied with Southern Koreans or missionaries, " stated Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert on Peterson Institute.

China labels North Korean escapees "economic migrants" and forcibly comes back all of them despite records of torture and execution. Therefore those hoping to defect must make their particular way across China to a third nation.

Of those North Koreans interviewed in China, only about one in 10 state they left due to a wanting for freedom, according to W. Courtland Robinson, a public wellness expert at Johns Hopkins University who has examined the issue for more than 10 years.

A large proportion just who leave give the exact same explanation tune did for his pre-defector forays into China throughout the famine: the look for work or food.

"The (North Korean) system is really built-in to who you really are, " Robinson said. "men and women generally speaking cannot state 'I am frustrated, and I wish away.' "

Tune's paintings explore that motif: a commitment to serving North Korea's leaders therefore powerful that people visualize it within their identification.

"Flower Children" reveals a gaggle of smiling, uniformed schoolgirls waving and holding North Korea's standard reading primers, "the storyline of Kim Jong Il's Childhood" and "reputation for Kim-il Sung."

Girls exude childish charm, many faces reveal a weariness that only comes with age, and their eyes are all shut. Their shoes have holes.

"They believe they're delighted, " tune stated. "They believe they're plenty best off compared to the other countries in the globe due to their two frontrunners, who are like two suns."

Song can certainly still recite a few of the pages from those reading primers, and he recalls walking to school in comparable footwear.

Such thoughts encourage him to color, he says, and he hopes individuals get a hold of his interpretations of those memories persuasive.

"Tumen River" is performed in classical Chinese style. Initially, having its brushed hill landscape, the artwork looks like it could be from the Tang Dynasty. On closer examination, its subtleties portray North Korea's crippling poverty. Peasants work fields with oxen while close by, a broken-down tractor rusts. Troops fish for their dinner downstream from women doing washing by hand.


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