Gifts from Africa
Archive Film from North Korea
Kim Il Sung, the former leader of North Korea, built the International Friendship Hall in 1978, a large exhibition hall on Mt. Myohyang in North Korea. The six-story building is 43.3 meters high and has an area of 28,000 square meters. The exhibition hall is divided into the main hall and the annex. The main hall displays gifts sent to Kim Il Sung from national political parties, national leaders, and political figures from all five continents on a continent and country basis. The annex displays the gifts sent to Kim Jong Il, and they are displayed as the same classification method. According to the 2007 report of the North Korean government, Kim Il Sung received 224,111 gifts from 179 countries, and Kim Jong Il received 55,431 gifts from 164 countries. The Hall is divided into 150 exhibitions, and it takes a year and a half if you spend one minute per gift. Currently, the International Friendship Exhibition Hall is a public museum that serves as a major tourist spot, promoting the international reputation of former North Korean leaders to foreign visitors.
The catalog of the International Friendship Exhibition Hall selects about 150 of these gifts and presents photos and sources of origins of the gifts. If I categorize the gifts in the catalog by continent, North Korea get the most gifts from African countries, followed by Arab countries and Asia, and finally from Europe and North America. The national leaders who have sent the gifts are those who have supported the former socialist parties or are generally considered as dictators. This catalog is a propaganda tool to highlight the superiority of the dictatorship system. It is also an interesting tool for promoting the friendship between North Korean leaders and their friends. The South Korean Unification Ministry’s North Korea Information Center categorizes this catalog as a special item for some reasons. Special items refer to materials that are viewable only by members who have been identified in the Information Center but are not copyable and scannable. I scanned the images of the gift photographs in this catalog by using a portable scanner. This illegal scanning act caused tension in my hand, making the movement of the hand a little faster and shaking. As a result, the scanned images are distorted in an unpredictable manner, and the quality of the images are, therefore, degraded. The distorted and diminished photographs could lower the authority and symbolism of North Korea in the pictures. The project consists of the re-edited version of North Korean documentary film Worldwide Support for Kim Il Sung, the illegally scanned photographs, and 3-D printed objects from the photographs and the film. First, the film is a North Korean propaganda film produced in the mid-1970s that depicts Kim Il Sung as a great leader whom the world leaders admire. The original film shows not only the African delegations meeting Kim Il Sung but also delegations from Asian and Eastern European countries. But, the actions of African leaders are somewhat different. They are the continent that makes up the largest number of gifts in the catalog, and they behave differently from other countries. For example, Zambia President Kenneth David Kaunda sang in front of Kim Il Sung, which seems to be a special entertainment for Kim Il Sung. It is not normal in a diplomatic meeting between nations. It is more like a talent show by soldiers in front of a military commander in the army festival. The reason why the African delegation gave Kim Il Sung this extraordinary entertainment is related to Kim Il Sung’s foreign policy at that time. Kim Il-sung actively participated in the non-alliance movement, fully supporting the dictators and military leaders of the newly independent African countries of the 70s and 80s. Notable African aid by North Korea includes the military supply support, the transmission of military technology, the monuments, the statues, and the free constructions of national buildings. There was a strange rumor among African leaders in the 70s that they could potentially receive some buildings, tanks, and airplanes for free if they ingratiate themselves with Kim Il Sung of North Korea. That could be the reason why delegations from African countries express excessive respect, such as singing in front of Kim Il Sung.
For the video, I emphasize their friendship by re-editing only the appearance of former military leaders, dictators, and Kim Il Sung. In addition to the video, I transform the 2-D images of the gifts from African leaders into 3-D digital files, using a 3-D digital modeling technology. The 3-D printer makes the low-quality original pictures into tangible objects. The objects made with 3-D technology and the images stolen from the catalog criticize the megaliths and myths of the gifts given to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s propaganda found in Africa can also be seen as a black humor in the history of political diplomacy.