Preserving propaganda for future generations

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Preserving propaganda for future generations

BEIJING - The first Beijing 798 Biennale kicked off Saturday, and crowds of art lovers have been flocking to Dashanzi Street, the famous art district in the Chinese capital.

Not all the galleries contain traditional artwork. Ou Yangquan, 42, runs a gallery called Bafang Yishu Jihua with a collection of 200 North Korean propaganda posters from the 1950s he collected over the last 13 years.

“When North and South Korea are united, I believe the posters will greatly help people study North Korean society in the 1950s,” Ou said.

Born in Sichuan Province, China, Ou first came in contact with North Korean art in 1996. Working on the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Ou developed contacts in the North Korean military. After leaving the Chinese army, he went into real estate development. Since the 1990s, he has devoted his time to the art business.

Ou acquired his collection on many trips to Pyongyang. Many of the works on display at his gallery were produced by Mansudae Art Studio, the largest of its kind in North Korea. One piece representative of both the collection’s vividness and its controversial politics depicts the plight of the American soldiers after the United States was defeated in the Battle of Changjin Lake, also known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, during the Korean War.

The amateur curator likes to show off his 200 posters one by one. “They are very rare and I consider them my treasures,” he said.

The posters were printed by the country’s national art agency soon after the beginning of the socialist government in the North in the 1950s, and they were designed to encourage hard work, especially in construction.

A piece, which reads, “Rice is the force of socialism,” aims to increase rice production.

Another that reads, “Eternal friendship and engaging solidarity,” commemorates the alliance between North Korea and China, which fought on the same side during the Korean War.

The slogan “Knowledge is power” encourages people to read more books, while another poster to celebrate the launch of a satellite by the Soviet Union reads, “The East is full of delight while the West screams.”

“In the 1950s, North Korea printed only a limited amount of posters, and most of them were damaged or destroyed,” Ou said. “The ones I collected are almost in original condition, and they are very rare.” Asked how he collected the posters, he only gave a brief answer: “I bought one or two pieces at a time through acquaintances,” he said.

Ou said there was an American who wanted to buy the posters, but he did not sell. “To preserve the posters, I want to sell all of them in a bundle for at least $300,000,” he said.

By Chang Se-joung []

Ou Yangquan, who runs a gallery on Dashanzi Street in Beijing, with his prized North Korean propaganda posters in the background. By Chang Se-joung

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