“It’s easy to make fun of Pyongyang’s Ozymandias statuary, its comical anachronisms (such as the monument, unveiled in April, showing the late Kim Jong-il astride a rearing charger) and its government buildings dolled up with Vegas levels of glitz. But this book takes us beyond the laughter to see the cost to the Korean people of this preening ideological environment. Public monuments and buildings in Pyongyang are illuminated at night, but private residences are largely dark. Artists aren’t independent creators but cogs working in teams with hundreds of others to crank out propaganda images of the Kims. Official buildings may be constructed of lavish materials–quarried stone and solid-gold door pulls–but housing for ‘the masses’ is made from pre-cast concrete that quickly begins to crack and leak.
One day the regime will fall and democracy will come to North Korea. We can only hope that, when it does, the successor government will preserve the monumental, public, propagandistic Pyongyang in all its perverse glory. It would be a real tourist destination, the world’s only totalitarian-kitsch theme park–a kind of lopsided Disneyworld–and an object lesson in what happens when art is hijacked by the state, and the individual is ground beneath the wheels of a repressive ideology.”