Art for Freedom’s Sake

While art remains a somewhat distorted notion, the concept of freedom of expression still struck artists as Sun Mu that led the movement forward against the austere grips of the North Korean leaders. Since 1998, when escaping from North Korea as one of their top propaganda artists, Sun Mu (a pseudonym that means “the absence of borders”) continues to adopt the socialist realism techniques he learned during his time as an artist assigned to paint murals and propaganda posters.

Though, recent artworks have a fundamental distinction. Realism is weaved with a sharp provocative tale, incorporating a political message against oppression. The socialism propaganda aesthetic is now intertwined with slogans against capitalism and abolition of freedom, utilizing satirical and provocative imagery.

“When I lived in North Korea, I did whatever the political party and government told me to do. We were all educated to be loyal to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Un,” the artist states. “If North Korea was like South Korea is today, I would have stood up and protested.”

While the political and artistic freedom of South Korea granted him the liberty to create, it also put a target on his back. The controversy behind most of his paintings is a risk for his family still living in North Korea, where the “Three Generations of Punishment” rule still operates.

Known in South Korean news outlets as the “faceless” or “nameless”artist, Sun Mu's concern for safety and anonymity do not deceive his purpose to raise awareness of the intolerable suffering North Koreans face under the authoritarian regime.

Photos by Stephen Gladieu
Owner of SCHOOL GALLERY, Paris: ARTCO GALLERY, Germany, Cape Town, Joshua Tree