North Korea is not a country with a considerable variety of exports, nor does it lead the world in many fields. There is, however, one area where it is considered perhaps unassailable- the production of grand monuments. There is no doubt that they have exceptional artists, particularly at the Mansudae Art Studio, which has its own international wing known as MOP- Mansudae Overseas Project Group. This wing has been commissioned to create some pretty spectacular works of art around the world, although the vast majority of the Monuments built by North Korea are in Africa.
5. Fairy Tale Fountain- Frankfurt, Germany
Also known in German as Märchenbrunnen, This one may come as a surprise to many readers being that it’s based in Germany. It’s not one of the most impressive pieces here, but the fact it’s in Europe and many people pass by it on their way to and from work without knowing about Mansudae Art Studio’s involvement in its reconstruction gives it a great story. This, as we know from Season 8 of Game of Thrones, is the most important thing.
Initially unveiled in 1913, the fountain didn’t survive World War 2 intact, with some of it allegedly being melted down for its metal, other parts being stolen or damaged. Restoration attempts with rough copies were attempted over the intervening years, but in the end, with no surviving plan for the original work, Frankfurt asked Mansudae Art Studio to rebuild the fountain. Using photographs as their only source, they rebuilt the fountain as it stands today. So if you’ve ever been to Frankfurt, you may have passed by one of the most well-known artworks built by North Korea in Europe, without even realising it.
4. The Unknown Soldier- Windhoek, Namibia
Looking suspiciously like Sam Nujoma, the founding President of Nambia and the man who commissioned it in the first place, this statue has faced a fair degree of controversy. Awarded the task of building the statue, obelisk and surrounding memorial with no competition, there have been complaints of corruption in the tendering process and claims that the final cost doubled.
The entire monument is known as Heroe’s acre and sits on a hill south of Windhoek and seems to pull some inspiration from the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery in Pyongyang, with a dash of typical North Korean style big bronze statue and an Obelisk for good measure. It also features an eternal flame. Much like the Martyr’s cemetery on Mt Daesong in Pyongyang, there are many graves for national heroes, many of which will be filled in the future, as heroes who struggled for Namibia’s Independence pass on.
3. The Angkor Panorama Museum- Siam Reap, Cambodia
The most recent work on this list, the Angkor Panorama Museum, was officially opened on the 4th of December in 2015. Dedicated to Cambodian history as opposed to Korean history the museum apparently cost more than 30 million dollars. For the moment, it is run by North Koreans and will be until late 2025. So, for now, all the guides showing you around will be North Koreans, so if you’ve ever wanted to talk to one without taking a trip to the DPRK, here’s your chance.
Overseen by a Merited Artist from Mansudae Art Studio who specializes in Panoramas, Dioramas and Cycloramas (Try saying that fast ten times), the museum took 63 artists two years to complete.
North Korea and Cambodia have had a special relationship going back to President Kim Il Sung and Samdech Euv Norodom Sihanouk’s personal friendship forged in the 1940s but this project was the first recent reminder of that for some time due to Cambodia’s pivot towards South Korea.
2. The Agostinho Neto Mausoleum- Luanda, Angola
Spectacularly Brutalist in design, this 120m monumental structure resembles some kind of sci-fi reinterpretation of the tower of Sauron if you ask me, but most people don’t. Instead, it was known as sputnik by locals due to its resemblance to a rocket ship. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, it may have cost 40 million USD, but maybe it didn’t, with talk of barter with aviation fuel and military exchanges proving irrepressible.
Originally awarded to a Brazilian construction company, it was finished by the MOP, once again bolstering their claim to be the best in the business of monuments. Built-in 2012, it was to be the last big project for Mansudae Art Studio as Angola cancelled all existing contracts with the studio by 2018.
1.The African Renaissance Monument- Dakar, Senegal
Regardless of your taste in art, the monument itself is impressive. Standing on a 100-meter high hill, this 49-meter tall bronze statue absolutely refuses to be ignored (To the chagrin of its various critics). Officially dedicated on the 4th of April 2010, the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence from France and nearly eight years after they tried their hardest to teach France how to score goals in football, the monument leapt to the top of the charts as Africa’s tallest statue.
Criticism for the statue has been considerable, and has united all kinds- Christians complained after the then president compared the statue to Jesus, Islamic Imams found it immodest and an example of idolatry, Art critics consider it “meh” and it’s also been accused of being Misogynistic and the exact opposite of what it claims to be considering it was designed by a Romanian and built by North Korea. However, if you’re in Dakar, you truly can’t miss it, even if you try..