GIFTING: Who is Nick Bonner giving his book to this Christmas?
The author of Printed in North Korea runs us through his year, and tells us who is on his gift list this holiday season
There’s no such thing as Christmas in North Korea. The left-wing totalitarian dictatorship does not allow religious observance of any kind. Yet that doesn’t prevent the Phaidon author, film director and North Korean expert, Nicholas Bonner, from reflecting on his year this holiday season.
Bonner co-founded Koryo Tours, a travel agency that specialises in North Korean tourism, co-directed the 2012 North Korean feature film, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, and is an avid collector of North Korean woodblock and linocut prints. His new book, Printed in North Korea: The Art of Everyday Life in the DPRK, offers an unparalleled look behind the Bamboo Curtain, to show both the talent of North Korea's artists and the unique social, cultural, and political conditions in which they work.
Aside from publishing this book – his follow-up to the DPRK graphic design survey, Made in North Korea – Bonner has had a pretty fruitful 2019, gaining access to one of North Korea’s most prestigious cultural events. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from despairing at the peninsula’s diplomatic stalemate, nor stymied his ambitions for working more closely with the DPRK’s more talented artists.
What inspired you most this year? I gave a talk on the linocut collection that features in the book at the Victoria and Albert Museum. When I pop my clogs the plan is for the linocuts from my collection to be housed in a similar institution for all to see and wonder what on earth living under such a system must have been like.
What annoyed you most? Sadly the stalemate between the US and North Korea. There is no give in the political stalemate – reduction of sanctions v. nuclear capability – and the North Korean general public is feeling the brunt of it all.
What was your personal highlight? I have been trying to get access backstage to North Korea’s Revolutionary Opera for over two years. This November we got permission to visit with Slovenian photographer Matjaz Tancic, and we were in the wings, shooting in between actors, as props were being rolled on and off stage. To have this sort of close-up access has never happened before. The reportage will be out later this year.
What can we expect from you in 2020? More projects which contribute to critical engagement with North Korea and give North Korean artists the opportunity to work to a more varied brief than their State run studios allow.
Who will you give your Phaidon book to for Christmas? I will give one or two to galleries who I hope will be inspired to put on an exhibition of the linocuts. That would be a great gift.
It would indeed, Nick. To add a copy of this book to your or a friend's Christmas gift list, go here. Printed in North Korea: The Art of Everyday Life in the DPRK reproduces an incredible collection of prints dating from the 1950s to the twenty-first century, the only one of its kind in or outside North Korea. Depicting the everyday lives of the country's train conductors, steelworkers, weavers, farmers, scientists, and fishermen, these unique linocut and woodblock prints are a fascinating way to explore the culture of this still virtually unknown country.