North Korea - or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as it is known locally - is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Few foreigners are able to visit it and few North Koreans are able to travel abroad. Our knowledge of this singular state is therefore particularly limited, with debate often centring on the idea of North Korea as an abstract geopolitical entity – as a land of incomprehensible systems and beliefs.
But North Korea is a real country of 23 million inhabitants. This exhibition sets out to provide a view of the people and the country that we hope will inform future discussion. It shows people doing ordinary things – students walking down a street; a man waiting at a tram stop; women bathing in the sea – as well as less ordinary sights, such as a much-decorated hero of the Korean War travelling to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in his Mercedes; dancers rehearsing in the car park before a performance at the Arirang Games; and a glimpse into the routines of workers on a collective farm.
The photographs were taken by Nick Danziger who, together with the writer Rory MacLean, travelled to North Korea in August 2013 under the auspices of the British Council, and with the support of the Central Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, DPRK. They visited the cities of Pyongyang, Nampo, Wonsan and Sariwon, each day taken up with meeting people and encouraging them to talk about their lives, so that a picture emerges of individuals whose smallest pleasures are not all that different from people elsewhere, however strange or limiting their circumstances may appear to us. Profiles of 12 of these individuals are published in the catalogue accompanying this exhibition, together with an expanded selection of photographs and commentary on life and culture in North Korea.
The resulting exhibition consists of 81 colour photographs and will be shown at the British Council Headquarters in London, 13 May – 25 July 2014. The accompanying catalogue contains 205 pages and 137 colour illustrations, with a specially commissioned introduction by the former ambassador to the DPRK, John Everard; as well as texts by Rory MacLean and Andrea Rose. The catalogue is available to buy at the British Council reception and online via Cornerhouse.
The British Council has been running a teacher training programme in the DPRK for the past 13 years. This is the first cultural project we have undertaken with citizens of the country, and we hope that it might lead to greater people-to-people exchange and dialogue in the future.