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In 2007, I spent eight days being toured around one of the most feared yet equally ridiculed countries, often cited as the ‘last Stalinist fortress’ or ‘most isolated country in the world’ – the DPRK (North Korea). My lasting experience was that for around €1,500, it’s possibly the closest I would ever get to time travel.
On the surface, the country seemed distilled by its separation from the South. The past, or a version of the past, felt perpetually relived in daily life. While there, I was well looked after, well fed and forever engaged in the Orwellian Orientalism of it all: pastel attire, misty air and stark gray compositions I could capture with my first digital camera.
This society, hard to peek into, with rhetoric that spewed out from the hotel TV, was on the frontline of a proxy cold war the rest of the world has not seen for two decades. Before my visit I had preconceptions, mainly a mix of ‘human rights abuse’ and bewilderment. In the country, unfathomable and surreal events blended in with benign, even humorous, incidences. Events which enabled me to understand the DPRK in parallel with our own image of the place.
To this day I continue to learn, engage and seek a dialogue, some understanding of North Koreans, in a climate of far-reaching digital gossip often masquerades itself as news.
For more info, visit Icons of Rhetoric