It’s rare that we get a look inside North Korean culture–the country largely blocks access to outsiders, while a restrictive U.S. embargo makes it difficult for museums to purchase North Korean art, even from third-parties. A current exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale, though, gives us some more insight into the culture of the notoriously isolated country. Part of the Korean pavillion is a series of works titled “Commissions for Utopia,” made by the Mansudae Art Studio as well as anonymous North Korean architects and artists, which imagine North Korea’s future. Originally posted online by Wired, the illustrations were commissioned by Nick Bonner, the co-founder of one of the few North Korean tourism companies, Koryo Tours.
As much as these images provide a window into the country’s hopes, they also seem to tell us a lot about their own current cultural influences. Many of the images feel outdated, more at home with the styles of decades’ past than the present. It’s like how in Battlestar Galactica the fleet’s technology looks like it came out of the 1980s, even though it’s supposed to take place in the future (at least for most of the series). I mean, these are paintings, not even architectural renderings!
One work, illustrating a giant, flying home, looks straight out of some Better Living catalog for The Jetsons.
And in the one image of an interior, the furniture is pretty standard mid-century modern, while a Brancusi-esque sculpture sits on the patio.
Yet, there’s a remarkable amount of hope in these images too, especially for a country that is currently largely without electricity.