Gallery Gab

Q&A with Satirist Song Byeok

A Loving Father and His Children / courtesy of Sandbrush, Inc.

Formerly an Official State Propaganda Artist of North Korea, Song Byeok was disillusioned after famine struck his home country in the 1990s. He lost his parents and sister and was brutally tortured after attempting to find food in China. He ultimately defected and now works as a satirist, using paintings to depict oppressive regimes and the people trapped within them—including many images of the dictatorship in North Korea.

After showing in DC last spring, both the artist and his paintings have returned, this time to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. During the run of You For Me for You, Song’s work will appear in full force throughout the Woolly lobby. Song will also contribute to events around the city as part of the theater’s House Lights Up program.

Joanna: When did you first decide to start creating satirical work? Was it difficult to make that transition?

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The Features

Mock the “Dear Leader” with Song Byeok

Song Byeok - Take Off Your Clothes - acrylic on hanji; courtesy of

When Korean contemporary artist Song Byeok exhibits his work, he uses a pseudonym. That’s because he’s actually North Korean: his satirical paintings of the “Dear Leader” could result in execution or lifelong sentences in a gulag for the relatives he’s left behind.

This weekend, “The Departure” – an exhibit of his work at The Dunes – brings that dangerous satire to DC.

North Korea selected Song to be a state propaganda artist when he was only 24. According to an interview with Reuters, Song practically worshiped Kim Jong-il at the time, although he never met the dictator during his duties. Instead, he was handed a sketch every morning of daily propaganda to paint.

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