North Korea, a country known for its secrecy, isn’t particularly subtle when it comes to public art.
From lavish political murals to towering Soviet-realist statues, North Korea’s government-run Mansudae Art Studio produces exuberant pro-government propaganda for show at home and abroad. While there are few countries in the world willing to host to works of art produced in the Hermit Kingdom, some Mansudae-made statues have found homes overseas. In recent years, the studio’s international division, Mansudae Overseas Projects, has created several massive works of nationalist art at the request of foreign governments—almost exclusively on the African continent. (You too can purchase your own North Korean objet d’art, price on request, from Mansudae’s website.)
Namibia’s government granted Mansudae a $60 million contract to build “Heroes’ Acre,” a roughly three-kilometer (roughly 2 mile) war memorial in the capital city of Windhoek. It features a statue of an unknown soldier, which is reportedly the spitting image of former president Sam Nujoma, and was completed in 2002.
Mansudae was also contracted to construct Namibia’s New State House, completed in 2008.
In Benin, Mansudae built a statue memorializing the eleventh king of Dahomey, Béhanzin, who led the indigenous resistance efforts against French colonization in the 1890s.
In Botswana, there’s the Three Dikgosi Monument, also known as the Three Chiefs. Cast entirely in bronze, it features Khama III of Bangwato, Sebele I of Bakwena, and Bathoen I of Bangwaketse—three tribal leaders who played instrumental roles in Botswana’s independence from the British Empire. It was built in 2005.
In the West African country of Senegal, Mansudae built arguably its most famous overseas work: the African Renaissance Monument; a colossal structure of bronze standing at a height of 49 meters (about 160 feet).
It was unveiled in April 2010, in the presence of 19 African heads of state—including the presidents of Malawi, the African Union, the African Union Commission, Benin, Cape Verde, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, and Zimbabwe—former US congressional representative Jesse Jackson, Senegalese-American R&B artist Akon, and envoys from North Korea. The ceremony commemorated the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence from France.
The statue in Dakar has proven to be somewhat problematic for locals. For one, Abdoulaye Wade, who commissioned the work during his tenure as president of Senegal, was reportedly billed $27 million. Unable to pay the DPRK in cash, he is said to have compensated Pyongyang in deeds to state-owned land.
Furthermore, once the statue was unveiled, Wade reportedly claimed that Senegal’s intellectual property laws entitled him to 35% of tourism revenue from the monument. “The statue’s depiction of a near-naked man holding a woman with an exposed breast also caused consternation among the 92% Muslim population,” Atlas Obscura reports.
Mansudae also built a statue of assassinated Congolese president Laurent-Désiré Kabila, and contributed to the construction of Angola’s Agostinho Neto Cultural Center in Luanda.
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