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North Korea: The art of Song Byeok

Before his defection, the North Korean artist made propaganda for the Kim regime.

North Korea: The art of Song Byeok

SEOUL—At first glance, it looks like a painting of the actress Marilyn Monroe, striking her iconic pose above a subway grate.

Above the ballooning dress, however, sits the face of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, wearing his trademark dark sunglasses and grinning wildly. A group of gold fish swim about the figure’s feet.

The comical work was unveiled in Seoul earlier this year as part of “Forever Freedom,” the debut exhibition by the North Korean artist Song Byeok, who defected to the South in 2002.

Before defecting, Song cut his artistic teeth painting propaganda for Kim’s regime, turning out grinning portraits of founding father Kim Il Sung and technicolor depictions of militant workers and peasants.

Since arriving in South Korea, however, he has turned his talents against the repressive regime and its diminutive leader.