The Chicago museum strives to reveal a balanced image of the world’s most secretive country.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) has a history of unleashing particularly relevant exhibitions. Art Radar peers into the museum’s latest offering, “North Korean Perspectives”.

“North Korean Perspectives”, 2015, Museum of Contemporary Photography. Image courtesy the museum.

Installation view, “North Korean Perspectives”, 2015, Museum of Contemporary Photography. Image courtesy the museum.

“North Korean Perspectives” opened at MoCP on 23 July 2015 and concludes 4 October 2015. The group show is curated by Marc Prüst in collaboration with MoCP Executive Director Natasha Egan. MoCP was established in 1976 by Columbia College Chicago. The museum highlights emerging national and international photographers, working in both traditional and digital paradigms – and this exhibition certainly shows a diverse range of works.

omas van Houtryve, ‘A North Korean woman loads a pistol for firing practice in Pyongyang, North Korea’, 2007. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Tomas van Houtryve, ‘A North Korean Woman Loads a Pistol for Firing Practice in Pyongyang, North Korea’, 2007. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The show includes 12 internationally-based photographers:

Installation view, “North Korean Perspectives”, 2015, Museum of Contemporary Photography. Image courtesy the museum.

Installation view, “North Korean Perspectives”, 2015, Museum of Contemporary Photography. Image courtesy the museum.

Seung Woo Back, ‘Utopia #011’, 2008. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Seung Woo Back, ‘Utopia #011’, 2008. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

David Guttenfelder, ‘Example haircuts on display at barbershop in #Pyongyang’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

David Guttenfelder, ‘Example Haircuts on Display at Barbershop in #Pyongyang’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The exhibition explores French journalist Philippe Grangereau’s photographic journey to North Korea in 2000 called Au Pays du Grand Mensonge – Voyage en Corée du Nord (The Country of the Great Lie), and takes a closer look at official versions of what the government wishes the outside world to see, while providing alternative takes on what is actually happening inside the “Hermit Kingdom”.

Pierre Bessard, ‘Pyongyang’, 2000. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Pierre Bessard, ‘Pyongyang’, 2000. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Pierre Bessard, ‘Workers in the Number 1 Glass Factory’, 2001. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Pierre Bessard, ‘Workers in the Number 1 Glass Factory’, 2001. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The first viewpoint is from photographers who had official access to events and leaders thorough “authorised channels”.

Ari Hatsuzawa, ‘Pyongyang City Marathon’, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Ari Hatsuzawa, ‘Pyongyang City Marathon’, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Ari Hatsuzawa, ‘Outdoor pool in Pyongyang’ (construction finished in 2012), 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Ari Hatsuzawa, ‘Outdoor Pool in Pyongyang (construction finished in 2012)’, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Others are from those who shot images without the approval of the North Korean State. Access varied from artists having a front row seat at one of North Korea’s patriotic Arirang Festival and the opportunity to photograph leader Kim Jong-il to others hiding cameras and posing as well-heeled investors.

David Guttenfelder, ‘North Korean babies rest in a row of cribs at the #Pyongyang Maternity Hospital’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

David Guttenfelder, ‘North Korean Babies Rest in a Row of Cribs at the #Pyongyang Maternity Hospital’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Hyounsang Yoo, from the “Brave New World” series, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Hyounsang Yoo, ‘Brave New World’, 2015, from the “Brand New World” series, 2014/2015. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Suntag Noh, ‘Hogism Art Gallery in Seoul’, 2007. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Suntag Noh, ‘Hogism Art Gallery in Seoul’, 2007. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Photography.

What image/s represent the real, authentic North Korea? Unfortunately, separating the fact from the fiction is not easy and Prüst concludes in an exhibition essay that this is indeed a slippery slope – elusive as the truth itself:

I wanted to decipher this national falsehood, to try and take it apart, and to find out whether there is truth that contradicts it. We can already conclude that the “truth” is not something we are able to find or identify, particularly in a country so elusive to us, and the “lie” that contradicts it is itself an unfindable truth, cloaked in propaganda. The question is, what can we learn of a country when its government places severe limits on our access?

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Korean artists, museums, museum showsnationalism, politicalnews, photography, picture feastsevents in Chicago

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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