[imText1]Song Byeok, whose iconic modern art depicting Kim Jong Il and ordinary North Korean people is starting to make waves at home and abroad, is to hold his first overseas exhibition in February at The Goat Farm, a gallery in Atlanta, Georgia.
Song, who defected in 2002 after seven years spent painting propaganda images for the North Korean regime, now paints the opposite kind of images to raise public awareness of the state of North Korean human rights.
Looking back over the last year in an interview with Daily NK on the 13th, Song recalls, “Even while I was preparing an exhibition last year I dreamed of going abroad to let people know about the reality of North Korea. Pictures and other artistic tools are much more powerful tools for informing people about North Korean human rights than statements by presidents or ministers.”
“This exhibition is opening overseas, and if it gives us a foothold by which to spur on interest in North Korea then that will be great,” he adds.
Song is still putting the finishing touches to preparations for the Atlanta exhibition with manager Mike Lee in Seoul, but there is a network of dedicated people united via social media to make sure Song makes the biggest splash possible when he lands in the States.
Naturally, it has not been easy. According to Lee, “We’ve got gallery space for Song, but we had a lot of trouble doing it. Not only is he an unknown artist, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience, either. We’ve only been able to hold this exhibition with the help of cartoonist Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal and a lawyer called Helen Kim from the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center.”
When the exhibition does finally open it will feature twenty pieces of Song’s art, including one of Kim Jong Il dressed as Marilyn Monroe that attracted a lot of attention during the exhibition in Seoul last January, and another showing Kim Jong Il and a group of African tribespeople that is likely to attract equal amounts of attention this time around.
Song says the new piece, ‘The Tribespeople and The General’, symbolizes the intrinsic goodness all people are born with, a state that he thinks the late North Korean leader should have returned to.
“It’s a piece I completed while Kim Jong Il was still alive,” he explains. “People are not Gods, they are human beings, and when they are born they are clean and kind. I wanted Kim Jong Il to go back to the time of his birth, when he had a warm and kind heart.”
“In short, it meant I was telling Kim Jong Il to go back to nature. These tribespeople solve every single one of their problems in nature. It’s natural,” he added. “People are fundamentally kind… It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t send this message while Kim Jong Il was still alive.”
The exhibition opens on February 17th, and will run to the 26th. Song is still working to secure additional funding for his efforts, and would-be donators will soon be able to do their bit through Song’s website (www.songbyeok.com), receiving a little slice of Song memorabilia in return. But he is also planning to give something back by auctioning a piece of his art, with the proceeds going to a childcare facility for defectors in Ansan, near Seoul.
Aside from lectures at three universities, there is even now also word that the message will arrive in Washington, DC in the spring.