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N.K. defector seeks cash for art debut in U.S.

A former North Korean propaganda artist who now makes pop art is seeking donations to exhibit his work outside of Korea for the first time.

North Korean defector Song Byeok has been invited by distinguished U.S. professors to tell people in the state of Georgia about his life and art.

And a campaign has been launched to help cover his airfare and the shipping of his works for his first trip to America. Members of the public have already pledged to donate almost $3,000 toward the $6,500 online fund-raising target.
Once a faithful propaganda painter for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Song lost faith in the Pyongyang regime after his mother and sister perished in the country’s famine of the 1990s.

His father drowned attempting to cross the Tumen River to secure food in China, and Song himself was later captured, brutalized and forced into hard labor at a prison camp.

Now living in South Korea, Song has taken advantage of his artistic freedom in paintings honoring the North Korean people and satirizing Kim Jong-il.

“It is time to reform and open North Korea, so that North Koreans can see what the real world is,” Song said. “Freedom of speech has nothing to do with North Korea. Here in South Korea, people can draw what they want. So every painting reflects the artist’s distinctive personality.”
‘Flower Children’ by Song Byeok
‘Flower Children’ by Song Byeok

Song will exhibit twenty acrylic paintings, including six new pieces at The Goat Farm arts center in Atlanta from Feb. 17-26. He is also scheduled to give various lectures during his visit.

“The more eyeballs we can get to see Song Byeok’s works of art, the better,” Gregory Pence, Director of Operations of SB-ATL Group ― a grassroots charitable organization that is helping bring Song to the U.S. said.

“His art understandably flows from a very raw and wounded place that runs contrary to his usual soft-spoken and cheerful disposition. Song retains his sense of optimism, knowing one day North Koreans will learn the truth about the outside world.”

Pence said that donations to the online fund-raising campaign would help promote cultural exchange between Korea and the U.S.

Such projects were needed: “Because the cultural bridge between Korea and the U.S. goes both ways,” he said.

“The Korean Wave is a very real phenomenon that comes in many different forms. As a satirist, Song Byeok is part of an emerging Korean contemporary art scene that has inspired people worldwide to take a close look at the peninsula’s traditions and evocative history. The artist’s message right now is one of hope, humor and freedom that’s quintessentially Korean but universally appealing.”

Those wishing to support the artist can do so via a dedicated page on the Kickstarter fundraising website.

“I personally hope the U.S. debut funded by Kickstarter backers inspires a period of artistic growth for Song, and I’m really excited to see what he produces in the next year,” said Pence.

For more information go to www.songbyeok.com or to www.kickstarter.com/projects/foreverfreedom/song-byeok-atl-expo-propaganda-meets-pop-art to donate.

By Kirsty Taylor  (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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