An introduction to the DPRK's premier art production facility.
The Mansudae Art Studio North Korea
The Mansudae Art Studio (만수대창작사 | 萬壽臺創作社 ) is a major art production centre and exhibition located in Pyongyang, North Korea. It is estimated to be one of the world’s biggest art producers — if not the biggest. Mansudae produces the great majority of North Korea's public art work from statues and monuments to murals and paintings across the DPRK. Despite the multiple, impressive pieces it has produced over the years both at home and abroad, it remains relatively unheard of. It is currently under UN sanctions.
The Mansudae Art Studio was founded in 1959. The site is similar in size to a small university campus, with a gift shop, a sauna, a medical clinic, a kindergarten, and a football pitch on site. It has a total area of approx. 120,000 square meters. The art studio employs around 4,000 people — 1,000 of which are artists, who work both domestically across the country and overseas.
Representative public-works projects by the studio include the Party Foundation Monument, the Chollima Statue, and the Arch of Triumph. The Mansudae Art Studio is also in charge of producing all pieces of art that include North Korea's leaders, for example the Mansudae Grand Monument, the Samjiyon Grand Monument, and the Wangjaesan Grand Monument.
Inside Mansudae Art Studio
Mansudae Art Studio is comprised of around 13 creative groups - including ceramics, sculpture mosaic, fine art painting etc. There are also around 10 manufacturing plants and various supply departments.
The 13 fine art creative artists are organised by art form (ink, oil etc) in various creative teams (ch’angjaktan), which are further subdivided into work groups (chagŏptan).
In the Mansudae Art Studio is the Mansudae Art Museum and well worth a visit, and contains all sorts of delights from where the monuments to the leaders are in the country, conceptual desings, early pin badges of the leaders, etc.
Except for the most distinguished artists, most artists have individual work stations in shared work rooms.
The most respected artistic group is Korean Painting (Korean ink on paper) with about 100 artists.
The oil painting department has approximately 80 artists.
The studios are comfortable places to work where younger artists will learn from their peers and their more experienced colleagues. In the ink painting department there are around 100 artists who belong to 5 teams (sil) with a leader (of merited artist level).
Every morning artists teams will have a 15-20 minute life drawing class with artists either posing or sketching.
During lunch breaks many of the artists and their colleagues will play table tennis, handball, tennis with a softball or other sports, and often belong to one of the many studio teams.
The first floor in the ink/oil studio in Mansudae is dedicated to portraying paintings of the Leaders only.
The artist’s work will be monitored and advised by the team leader.
Then each studio has a Council who will judge the quality and subject matter. If the piece is accepted it will go for a showing to a higher Council and then the artwork will be sent to exhibition or whatever it was intended for.
Other studio groups include mosaics, embroidery, pottery, and sculpture.
The creative groups enjoy a fair degree of autonomy, but with final decisions of taking on projects going to the Director of the Studio. Fees are discussed within the Studio and by an outside body.
Mansudae Art Studio Pieces
The Mansudae Art Studio is by no means a mass production art studio, but rather a producer of high-quality pieces of artwork. Working as an artist at the Mansudae Art Studios is a very prestigious profession.
The artists in the studio are selected from the best academies throughout the country to ensure the highest quality of North Korean art. Ages of employees range from mid-20s to mid-60s. The two highest awards an artist can receive in North Korea are the Merit Artists and the People’s Artists awards. Over half of these awards can be associated with employees of the Mansudae Art Studio.
Apart from grand monument statues, the Mansudae Art Studio has a large range of art works it produces. The studio is made up of 13 groups, which range from oil paintings to ceramics, statues, mosaics, posters, etc.
Mansudae Art Studio Abroad The Mansudae Overseas Project Group is in charge of all overseas projects. This division was established in the 1970s and has since created projects including statues, museums, and even stadiums worldwide. Countries include; Algeria, Botswana, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Senegal, Syria, Togo, and Zimbabwe.Perhaps the Mansudae Overseas Project Group's most famous work is the African Renaissance Monument (Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine) in Senegal. The studio also had ties with Italy, in 2005, Pier Luigi Cecioni first visited the studios in Pyongyang after performing in the capital as part of an orchestra. Cecioni wanted to help the studios, who were largely unknown, get their name out in the West however his website is now closed.
Koryo Studio and Queensland Art Gallery commissioned Mansudae Art Studio for the 2010 Asia Pacific Triennial. This was a major event and the first time North Korea contemporary art had been shown to an international public.
The Mansudae Art Studio had an exhibition in London in 2007. It ran for six weeks between July and August in La Galaria in Pall Mall.
In 2014, David Heather who was the curator of the 2007 exhibition in London, decided to recreate this event. This time the exhibition was held at the North Korean embassy in London. The North Korean artists were involved in the event and stayed in London two weeks prior to the event to prepare.
In Dandong, China, the Mansudae art Studios opened a trade exposition in 2013. It sold over 30 pieces just three days after opening.
The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies
The Studio has a branch ‘The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies’ that works on international projects- also founded in 1959. This entity is currently under UN sanctions.
As of August 2011, it had earned an estimated US $160 million overseas building monuments and memorials. As of 2015, Mansudae projects have been built in 17 countries: Angola, Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Cambodia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Mansudae Art Museum: Beijing, China
North Korean art was shown in the 798 Art District in Beijing however due to sanctions it is currently closed- however this art district in the north east of Beijing is well worth a visit, there are many different art studios dotted around the site, as well as small, trendy cafes and shops. You can also explore former abandoned factories to the back of the art district by strolling down the overhead steel walkways.
Visiting the Mansudae Art Studio
In Pyongyang, the Mansudae Art Studio North Korea is open for tourists to visit- but it is also under sanctions and abiding by this designation, Koryo Tours no longer take tourists to visit the studio. Before sanctions you could look around the campus-like site, visit the art gallery, and have a look into multiple studios on the site. Some of the studios were open to foreign visitors include oil paintings, ceramics, and sculpture.
If you’re lucky, and the studio comes off the sanctions list, then you may also catch some of the artists in action. Feel free to chat with them about their works. Pictures are allowed on site, but you should ask the artist before taking a picture of him/her or their pieces of artwork.
• Don’t miss out the North Korean art on several of the floors. Please remember that the studio is under UN Sanctions so just look with your eyes- do not purchase.
• Mansudae Art Studio offers a DHL postal service to help get souvenirs back home but this would break United Nations sanctions so don't even think of it!
*From Monday to Friday on arrival at work there is often a band that plays for around 20 minutes 8 am to 8.20.
*Mansudae Art Studio produces the badges worn by every adult North Korean.
*North Korean television has produced an almost 25+ part documentary on the Mansudae Art Studio, perhaps highlighting its importance in the eyes of the state.
Location and Access
The Mansudae Art Studio is based in the centre of Pyongyang, North Korea. It is easily accessible by car or coach. There is a carpark at the front of the art studio.
Puhung Station of the Pyongyang Metro is located nearby. At the time of writing (2019), it is not possible for foreigners to walk between the Mansudae Art Studio and this subway station.
Mansudae Art Studio in Pictures
Mansudae Art Studio is on the UN Sanction list and cannot be visited nor art purchased. There are other art establishements we can visit on longer trips to North Korea, and pick up your own legal North Korean artwork. Or, you can have a private tour and request it to be in your own personalised itinerary. What else can you see in North Korea? Download Koryo Tours' free 75-page guide to the country for a full list and follow the Koryo Tours Blog for in-depth descriptions.