Made in North Korea (March 2005)
1. Reproduction of “Kurofune Ya” by Yumeji Takeshita
2. Reproduction of “Woman with Vidro” by Utamaro
3. Portrait of American Multimillionaire
4. Portrait of American Actor
(images are missing...)
Stitch art is one of the developed contemporary art forms in North Korea. The artist sews small lines of thread into fabric to produce the image of a landscape or a portraiture of North Korea. I imported four art works from North Korea through my uncle in Japan.
The North Korean institution in Japan, Chyongryun, serves as an alternative North Korea embassy in Japan. Chyongryun employs two kinds of workers; one group is working for the institution and another are businessmen who make money and donate a portion to the institution or to North Korea. Futuristic and utopian socialism cannot survive without the funds and material resource that come from capitalist countries this way. My uncle was one of those businessmen. He sent pictures of American politicians, movie stars, multimillionaires, and Japanese antique paintings to stitch artist in North Korea who reproduced them as stitch art and sent them back to Japan. However, he was not able to sell these works because Japanese people simply didn’t want to buy anything from North Korea. This “boycott of goods” was an expression of their dislike of an oppressive regime that has been involved in kidnapping Japanese civilians. My uncle made a wrong assumption about what is marketable in art. He understood that in Korea, the intense labor and skill necessary in stitching have high value. However, he failed to recognize that the negative image of North Korea would hinder the sale of the art, even though the images were popular among Japanese. However, they are not as popular as one would think, particularly in relation to a Western market: North Koreans find themselves in the peculiar position where, in spite of the hostility they feel toward the West, they find it necessary to sell it goods for their economic survival. The story about stitch art tells of the difficulty they have. Basically, North Korea’s ideas about popular American culture are obsolete. The very borders that prevent information about Western culture to enter the country cripple their ability to make saleable products to the Americans. These products require that the artists have knowledge of Western culture. But the isolation that the North Koreans use to protect its cultural identity and autonomy also hinder its economic development.