[KH Explains] What is the story behind Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang?

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Sept 20, 2018 - 13:41
  • Updated : Sept 20, 2018 - 13:41

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio has been creating a buzz at home and overseas -- even after a UN official said the visit did not violate UN sanctions that ban international transactions with the North Korean art establishment.

So what do we know about the studio and why has it been banned by the UN?

The Mansudae Art Studio was founded in 1959. It is believed be one of the largest art production studios in the world, with some 4,000 workers. Among its staff, 1,000 are believed to be artists.
South Korea President Moon Jae-in (fourth from far right) and his wife Kim Jung-sook (second from far right) visit Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday (Yonhap)

In 2016, the UN sanctioned the studio’s exports of its products, mainly statues and sculptures, saying such economic activities may be affiliated with the communist state’s nuclear weapons development.

For such reasons, some critics called Moon’s visit to the property on Wednesday inappropriate.

Prior to the UN’s 2016 decision to ban its exports, the studio’s international clients included Senegal, Namibia and even Germany. It is believed that the studio has produced work for 18 countries -- mostly in Asian and African regions -- as of 2014.

The studio has been reported to have offered cheap labor for large-size monuments and sculptures overseas since the 1970s, such as the Heroes Acre war Monument in Namibia and African Renaissance Monument in Senegal.

The studio is also believed to have been hired by Germany to re-create Frankfurt’s Fairy Tale Fountain at the Willy-Brandt Platz in 2006.

It is believed that the studio’s artists do not make profits from their works, as all proceeds automatically go to the state.

Some of the most significant monuments in North Korea, including the Monument to the Founding of the Korean Workers Party, as well as the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill -- which features 20-meter-tall bronze statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il -- are also believed to have been created by artists at the studio.

All images of the Kim family have also been produced by the studio.

Cheong Wa Dae said President Moon visited the establishment in Pyongyang simply to appreciate its artworks.