Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

The Work of North Korea's Art Factory

  1. Mansudae Art Studio
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    Mansudae Art Studio

    Pyongyang's Mansudae Art Studio, pictured, may be the biggest art factory in the world. It employs roughly 4,000 workers, including some 1,000 artists. The massive atelier's main task is to churn out North Korean propaganda, but it also runs a thriving multimillion-dollar side business: building statues, monuments, museums, sports stadiums, and at least one palace for several foreign countries. Clients include Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Benin, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal, Syria, Togo, and Zimbabwe, according to Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. What follows is some of Mansudae's work, both in North Korea and abroad.

    Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
  2. Kim Dynasty
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    Kim Dynasty

    Mansudae Art Studio produces several types of artwork, including paintings, murals, and ceramics. The atelier's artists are the only North Koreans sanctioned to create images of the Kim family dynasty. Pictured, a painting of Kim Jong Il.

    Photograph by Martin Sasse/laif/Redux
  3. Monument to the Founding of the Korean Workers Party
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    Monument to the Founding of the Korean Workers Party

    Mansudae also produces statues and monuments like this 164-foot-tall Pyongyang monolith, the Monument to the Founding of the Korean Workers Party. The three fists are raising high a hammer, a sickle, and a calligraphy brush.

    Photograph by Alain Nogues/AP Photo
  4. Kim II Sung
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    Kim II Sung

    Mansudae first expanded its repertoire to serve the interests of foreign countries in the 1970s, launching an international branch called Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies. Many foreign countries hire the atelier because North Korea offers cheap labor and has a long history of building valorizing statues and monuments, like this one of Kim Il Sung.

    Photograph by Imago/Zuma Press
  5. The Great and Dear Leaders
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    The Great and Dear Leaders

    Here are statues of Kim Il Sung and his son, the late Kim Jong Il.

    Photograph by Martin Sasse/laif/Redux
  6. Work in Progress
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    Work in Progress

    Here's a work in progress in one of Mansudae's studios. The atelier often designs and builds models of its foreign works in Pyongyang, but it also sends workers abroad to do construction on-site.

    Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
  7. Revolutionary Heroes
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    Revolutionary Heroes

    This Pyongyang sculpture depicts North Korean revolutionary heroes.

    Photograph by Reuters
  8. African Renaissance Monument
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    African Renaissance Monument

    Senegal’s African Renaissance Monument, unveiled just outside Dakar in 2010, is among Mansudae’s most notable works. At 164 feet, it stands taller than the Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. The monument is intended to represent “Africa emerging from darkness, from five centuries of slavery and two centuries of colonialism,” Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s former president, told the Wall Street Journal. “Only the North Koreans could build my statue,” he said, adding, “I had no money.”

    Photograph by Jeffrey Attaway/Creative Commons
  9. DR Congo's Laurent Kabila
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    DR Congo's Laurent Kabila

    This is Mansudae's statue of the Democratic Republic of Congo's former leader Laurent Kabila. The North Koreans have built statues of several African leaders, many of which look suspiciously like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. People in several countries have complained about their leaders using North Korean labor and wasting money on self-promotional projects.

    Photograph by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Photo
  10. Namibia's Presidential Palace
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    Namibia's Presidential Palace

    Namibia is one of Mansudae's best repeat customers. The country has hired North Korea to build a military museum, an independence museum, the Heroes Acre monument, and this presidential palace.

    Photograph by Daily NK
  11. Angola Peace Monument
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    Angola Peace Monument

    Here is Mansudae's rendering of the peace monument it built for Angola.

    Photograph by Daily NK
  12. Frankfurt's Fairy Tale Fountain
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    Frankfurt's Fairy Tale Fountain

    Germany is the only Western democracy to have hired Mansudae Art Studio. In 2005, Frankfurt commissioned the Pyongyang studio to re-create its so-called Fairy Tale Fountain, an art nouveau relic from 1910 that had been melted down for its metal during World War II. The total cost for the project: 200,000 euros, including shipping and handling. This photo shows the fountain in 1920.

    Photograph by Leonhard Kleemann/ Stadt-Frankfurt
  13. Plaster Model
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    Plaster Model

    Here's a glimpse of Mansudae's plaster model of the German fountain, shot in a Pyongyang studio. Look closely and you'll see another work in progress.

    Courtesy Philipp Sturm