Australia Bars North Korean Artists from Exhibition

Australia Bars North Korean Artists from Exhibition
The sixth Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, which opened Dec. 5 and runs through April 5, 2010 at the Queensland Museum of Art, includes something previously unseen in Australia: artwork commissioned from artists in North Korea.

The exhibition, which includes works from more than 100 artists from 25 countries, was also to feature an appearance by the North Korean artists, but at the last minute the artists' visa applications were rejected, and each received a notice saying that their "presence in Australia is or would be contrary to Australia's foreign policy interests."

Nick Bonner, curator of the exhibition, said, "It does seem to have come down to one or two individuals at the very top who seem to be responsible for this basically soft censorship."

According to the Foreign Ministry, "Australia's visa ban on North Korean nationals is part of the Government's response to North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs."

It appears that the artists — Pak Hyo Song, Kang Yong Sam, O Song Gyu, Rim Ho Chol, Ri Jong, and Pak Yun Chol — are employed by a studio that operates under North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, providing propaganda glorifying his regime.

Bonner, who worked with the artists for three years, said that the accusation that the 13 commissioned works, which include oils and watercolors, wood cuts and sketches, are propaganda is ridiculous.

And despite the banning of the artists, the works themselves have been allowed to go on display. They're “exceptionally strong and beautiful," said Bonner.

Read more at ABC News and at the Queensland Courier Mail.