Some like it hot, but Kim Jong Il in Marilyn Monroe’s fluttering dress is certainly not what most people have in mind when they think “hot.”
North Korean artist Song Byeok perfected his portraiture skills painting Kim Jong Il as a propaganda artist for his regime in the 1990s — a skill that he puts to use now as a satirical artist, painting the “Dear Leader” in embarrassing situations such as Monroe’s subway grate scene from “The Seven Year Itch.” He’s one of several artist-defectors whose careers have gotten a boost from the dictator’s death.
Byeok works under a pseudonym, because he fears retaliation against relatives who remain in North Korea. He was selected at age 24 to become an official state propagandist, according to the biography on his Web site. He told Reuters that he was simply handed a sketch of whatever propaganda the state wanted illustrated that day, never meeting Kim Jong Il. He defected in 2002 and now lives in South Korea, where he paints propaganda-inspired works that mock the North Korean state and demonstrate his newfound freedom. He will exhibit his work in the U.S. at an Atlanta art center in February.
Byeok isn’t the only North Korean propaganda artist whose work is getting a second look after Kim Jong Il’s death. Another former propaganda artist who mocks Kim works under a pseudonym, Sun Mu. Both paint the “Dear Leader,” and they have another subject in common — the hollow-eyed children that are called “fluttering swallows” in North Korea.
But as a new leader takes over in North Korea, could Kim Jung Eun be the next to appear in embarrassing situations in Byeok’s art? He tells Reuters he’ll wait and see, but he has no plans to paint him yet.