Sun Mu was trained in the North Korean Army to be a propaganda artist and assigned to paint murals and posters for the Communist government in the North and to honour Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-un. Having defected from North Korea in 1999 amidst a deadly famine, Sun now uses his experience as a former creator of propaganda to create satirical art that blends images of North Korea’s Communism with pop aesthetics.
Sun Mu has seen his art cause major uproars due to the subjects that it touches on. In 2015, an exhibition of his work in China was unexpectedly shut down, an incident that he believes was orchestrated by the government of North Korea.
This autumn, his works are on display in a solo exhibition at the Kunstraum in Munich, Germany, where addresses the recent summits between the two Koreas and the United States. He also shows the interrelationship, the similarities, and the differences between the South and the North, as well as their tangible dependence on the US.
Sun Mu explains, “In February of this year I had an exhibition in Los Angeles which was founded by an American scholar of European history… One day I saw a woman who was standing in front of my painting and crying. I think she was from East Germany. … The crying woman understood something that many others do not understand because art is always something personal. The more personal it is to people the more they are touched by it.”
“The freedom to have political and artistic expression in South Korea gave me space to create paintings filled with strong satirical messages aimed at the North Koran regime, but it also attracted controversy and threatened the safety of my family members living in North Korea. Under the Communists’ “three generations of punishment” – three generations of a family can be disciplined by the North Korean government if a relative has gone against the state. For this reason, I work under a pseudonym and hide my face. Instead of my birth name I am using the pseudonym ‘Sun Mu’ which means ‘without borders’ or ‘boundlessness.”
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