London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

A North Korean coup, years in the planning


The North Korean flag stirred gently in the breeze in Pall Mall, the heart of London’s clubland, a few hundred yards from Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. An elderly gentleman pottered up the steps to the Athenaeum. The blue and red flag caught his eye, but its significance did not register.

A young woman in People’s Army uniform gave a triumphant salute opposite the darkened windows of that bastion of capitalism, the Institute of Directors. Inside, the industrialists shuffled their newspapers, ignorant of what was about to happen.

The DPRK’s ambassador to the UK savoured the moment. Standing in front of portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader he prepared to give his speech.

No-one knew what was going though the mind of his opposite number from the South, who was there to witness the scene. Earlier in the evening the two had been observed discretely exchanging some quiet remarks. What passed between them is unrecorded.

Glasses were raised, cameras clicked, and well-wishers from the British Communist Party were in their element (rather too much so, someone would later comment), surrounded by posters decrying US imperialism and praising the glorious people’s revolutionary struggle.

The room fell silent as the ambassador cleared his throat to deliver the meticulously phrased message which had been carefully drafted and redrafted over the past few weeks.

The work of the past four years had finally come to fruition. Since that chance meeting in a rogue regime in Africa many years ago, contacts had been made, relationships had developed, trust had been built. The deal had finally been done in Pyongyang, but only after several clandestine meetings. Everything had been agreed at the highest level. And in an amazing logistical effort, the goods had been safely transported. Customs officers has simply waved them through at the airport. They too did not comprehend the significance of the cargo. A team of experts had checked the precious items at the secure delivery location, unpacked and prepared them, and arranged them in the appropriate configuration. News of the momentous occasion had been distributed around the appropriate circles over the past few months. The moment had now arrived…

A fantasy from a cheap thriller?

No, reality. London, July 18th 2007.

While I was unable to be present at the opening of the exhibition “Artists, Art and Culture of the DPRK”1, I have spoken to a number of people who were there, and with a bit of artistic license that’s what happened. Specifically:

  • Both ambassadors were present and were observed talking to each other2
  • The DPRK flag flew at the entrance to the Royal Opera Arcade
  • Photos were taken in front of portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

In front of the leaders

OK, the young female soldier is in fact a jewel painting (below) displayed in the window of La Galleria, and there were more watercolours on display than propaganda posters, but with 200 people present to celebrate the event a good time was had by all, particularly it seems the British lefties:

One attendee of the opening, which featured North Korean diplomats and their wives, described the scene: “There were loads of people, it was really packed. The embassy was there and some old (British) hanger-on Communists — you know the type, with their bad-fitting cheap suits and beards — they were being a bit weird and annoying people.” Source: Cool Hunting.

Sounds like an entertaining bash.

Jewelled salute

Congratulations to David Heather on seeing the work of many years see its realisation. The chance meeting was in Zimbabwe, where he met Merit Artist Pak Hyo Song (creator of the animal paintings in the current exhibition), since when he has visited Pyongyang a number of times and built up contacts at the Mansudae Studio. This exhibition is the result.

The “appropriate configuration” in the above fantasy is no understatement. The pictures were originally hung following what seemed like appropriate curatorial judgements. But such judgements reckoned without the need to give appropriate prominence to the more senior artists. The choice positions had to be given to the “People’s Artists”, while the “Merit Artists” and more junior artists had to make do with more humble positioning. It is thought that as the formalities of the opening fade into memory there will be opportunities to circulate some of the works, giving the chance for some other works (not yet framed) to be displayed. So even if you have seen the exhibition for the first time, it will be worth coming again to see what other works are on show. And watch this space for announcements of special events connected to the exhibition.

The artists with David Heather in front of Kim Song Min's 'Sculpture Workers'
L to R: People’s Artist Kim Song Min; David Heather; Merit Artist Pak Hyo Song; People’s Artist Son U Yong. Behind: Kim Song Min’s “Sculpture Workers” (Watercolour)


  • Thanks to Alan Roxborough of BestVenues for the photos.


  • La Galleria Website – official site of the exhibition (under construction)
  • LKL guest contributor Michael Rank has written an account over at the Asia Times.
  • Record of the opening at the Workers Daily, organ of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
  1. With unfortunate timing I had to be away on business, but in scant compensation I discovered a few more upstairs bars in Manhattan’s Koreatown []
  2. Whether (ROK) Ambassador Cho stuck around for (DPRK) Ambassador Ja’s speech (or whether Ambassador Ja even made a speech) I don’t know. Ambassador Cho was spotted at Asia House later on in the evening, supporting his cultural centre staff at the traditional Korean dance event []

3 thoughts on “A North Korean coup, years in the planning

  1. It’s a different world. So far away from the 6 party talks and the NK gulags. Oh to be an artist.

    Excellent opening section to the post, I was hooked.


    London Korean Links apologises to the Communist Party of Britain for any suggestion that it was their members who were present at the opening of the exhibition, annoying the other guests (according to Cool Hunting’s correspondent). I am reliably informed that it was members of the New Communist Party of Britain and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). I also apologise unreservedly to the tailors to the Communist Party of Britain for any implication that their craftsmanship looks cheap.

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