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Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life in The DPRK

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Books, by Mark White
November 13, 2017

Paying a visit to the hermit kingdom and a world of spectacular design

Straight out of the super-secretive state of North Korea comes Nicholas Bonner’s compilation of everyday designs, from sweet wrappers and cigarette boxes to postcards and invitations.

The book itself is absolutely beautiful – its bright pink cover is emblazoned with a gold foil, in its simplicity setting you up for what’s in store. Every page inside is premium, with large visuals, matte paper and short succinct captions to help keep your eyes roving over every image.

Not one single, everyday object has been overlooked – from watercolour boxes and envelopes to books and comics, Bonner gives you an intimate insight into the visuals of daily life in North Korea – and what you discover is truly incredible. Nothing is too small, too insignificant to look beautiful. It’s a refreshing concept that’s sadly so often overlooked in our own lives, but it’s motivation enough to kick-start your own drive to make everything beautiful. But from a nation so infamously secretive, what do we learn? North Korean artwork feels familiar yet fresh; dated yet timeless. If you were to compare it to Western art, you’d think it harks back to interwar and propaganda art in terms of the style.

Broken down into sections, each introductory page features a short essay on North Korean life and culture. Initially this feels superfluous, a half-hearted attempt to give editorial value to what’s essentially a visual book. But bear with it – it might initially seem irrelevant and illogical, but the further you explore through these essays, the more you appreciate their value. These essays provide an element of context in a society that baffles the Western world, and hammers home this North Korean identity that is so shrouded in mystery. And far from the stereotype, we discover a heritage and culture defined by design.

A nation that is well renowned for its struggles, strife and secrecy, Made in North Korea manages to portray a true emotion; far from a cold and calculating image of the state, this visual guide reveals a nation obsessed with its identity. Made in North Korea is evidence that North Korea champions itself through design – and it’s a truly spectacular feat.

The Verdict

10/10 – Brimming with artwork that seems somehow otherworldly, Made in North Korea shines a light of the state’s hidden treasures.