North Korea, although in the headlines over nuclear war threats recently, is a country the western world doesn’t know much about.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is led by Supreme leader Kim Jong-un, and apart from exchanging war rhetoric with president Donald Trump and reaching out to South Korea to enter a team in the Winter Olympic Games, the country is often left behind a veil for most of us – especially when it comes to its everyday graphic design.
That’s why London’s House of Illustration’s upcoming exhibition Made in North Korea may not be astounding in terms of the work itself (it literally is 'everyday' graphic design), nonetheless an intriguing insight into the graphic design from state-run North Korea. In fact, it's the UK’s first ever exhibition on the subject.
Image: Invitation to the 55th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK, 2003.
All images in this feature are from Nicholas Bonner's collection, courtesy of Phaidon.
Designs, as seen here, which feature on common objects such as sweet wrappers, stamps and posters, reveal a style honed over decades in a closed society – and to some of us – reminiscent of western advertising from the 1960s.
These graphic designs provide rare insight into the everyday like in the DPRK by drawing on a collection from Nicholas Bonner, who features these designs in his book Made in North Korea, which was released in 2017.
Image: New Year card featuring a factory worker demonstrating the range of products produced from soya beans, 2005.
Nicholas has been visiting the reclusive nation since 1993, although now based in Beijing, and comments on political and cultural oppression and the threat of nuclear war.
Nicholas told the British Journal of Photography much of the imagery used on North Korean packaging is simple utilitarian product announcement, and not really advertising – 'this is what I am and this is what I do' – and how much of the style hasn’t changed in over 20 years ; why would it need to if there are no competing businesses?
Nicholas now runs Koryo Tours, the world’s travel specialist to DPRK (North Korea).
Image: Candy assortment box showing the Red Flag train on the east coast of Korea.
Here we feature some of the graphic design works that will be on display in the exhibition, including an invitation to the 55th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK, tinned food labels, and a New Year card.
Image: Sweet packet, early 1990s.
Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics from the DPRK will begin on February 23 and run until May 13 at the House of Illustration in Granary Square.
To accompany the exhibition there will be a Q&A session with Nicholas Bonner, a UK premiere of North Korea’s first girl power movie, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, and a talk on comics from North and South Korea with Paul Gravett.
Image: Pepper packet given out on Air Koryo flights.
Image: Tinned food labels of pork and apples.
Image: Wrapping paper featuring Pyongyang's architectural highlights.