North Korean Artists Banned from Australia
Brisbane, Australia is home to an unusual art exhibition -- the type that's a welcome break from what you typically see in major museums around the world. The Queensland Art Gallery is hosting the 6th Asia-Pacific Triennial through April 2010, and for the first time, art from North Korea has a large presence. Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours is co-curator of the exhibition, which reflects three years of commissioning works.
But, if you're interested in meeting the artists, you'll be disappointed.
Originally, five artists from Mansudae Art Studio were going to attend the show and discuss their work, but the Australian government declined their visas at the last minute, according to Koryo Tours. The artists in question were Pak Hyo Song, Kang Yong Sam, O Song Gyu, Rim Ho Chol, Ri Jong and Pak Yun Chol.
A spokesman for the Australian government explained, according to The Courier Mail, "The studio reportedly produces almost all of the official artworks in North Korea, including works that clearly constitute propaganda aimed at glorifying and supporting the North Korean regime." He continued, "To make an exception in this case would have represented a relaxation of Australia's visa ban and sent an inappropriate message to the North Korean regime."
The artists are state employees, but the fact that the 13 pieces to be shown in Australia were commissioned by the gallery implies that they were not created under the auspices of an official art function. According to Bonner, the artists were banned even though their works had not been seen by the government.
As a result, the art community has lost an opportunity to gain some insight into a group of artists and pieces that is not widely available outside the reclusive North Korean state. A statement from Koryo Tours calls it "a huge opportunity missed we believe."
Gallery director Tony Ellwood said to The Courier Mail, "We were hopeful there might be an exception, but we have to respect the wishes of the [Australian] federal government on this." He added, "However, we are very disappointed."