Sun Mu’s Mind the Gap: An Artist’s Transit From North to South

Mind the Gap An Artist’s Transit From North to South

Sun Mu July 16th – August 20th, 2011
Opening Reception: July 16th (Saturday) 5:00 – 8:00 pm
SB D Gallery


Sun Mu escaped from North Korea via China, Vietnam, Laos and then finally to South Korea. Sun Mu’s debut solo exhibition at SB D Gallery in New York City is significant as a rare exhibit of North Korean contemporary art in the USA.

Sun Mu’s work takes the Social Realist style of North Korean propaganda art to deliver a message that is in total contradiction of it. Because of this his work is often misunderstood – as was the case when his portrait of the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung was removed from the Pusan biennalle because it was mistaken for “pro-communist” art.

Kim Dong-il, a visual art critic has noted, “His work touches the national trauma of the divided Korea. His style is North Korean, but when he brought it to South Korea it became something completely different. The children’s smiles in his paintings become too idealized to be real. A smile is not always an expression of happiness, and can even mean the opposite”.

His work is both satirical and metaphorical. Part of the underlying message is to present the lie of the North Korean regime and it’s unthinking homage to the, “Dear Leader”. Within this message is also embedded a yearning for freedom and liberty for the people of North Korea. Other aspects reflected in his works are of a more personal experience: the years of repression in North Korea; living in fear of his life after escape and while hiding in Laos; his eventual settlement in South Korea and the contrast of his life there with his previous experience.

Everything an artist makes could be said to be an aspect of themselves and this is especially true of the images Sun Mu uses metaphorically. A painting of a child cadet drinking coke symbolizes the desire for liberty, to escape the North Korean state and the eventual success in obtaining that liberty. The Nike, Ipod and other Western symbols in Sun Mu’s paintings may also allude to the contradictions of ideologies between consumerist materialism and the sparse way of life he had hitherto experienced. Indeed, there are many obtuse references in Su Mu’s work and to presume that there is only a fixed message embedded in the paintinges would provide a false reading.

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