An Art Shirt, Made in North Korea

Another news from Korea, after yesterday’s Apology of the Japanese Prime Minister regarding the colonial rule between 1910 and 1945: German artist Dirk Fleischmann used his visiting professorship at Hansung University in South Korea’s capital Seoul, to design shirts and blouses that were produced in North Korea.

Wie Niklas Maak in der heutigen FAZ so treffend schreibt:

“But the number of people who would wear a shirt ‘Made in North Korea’ without continuously thinking of penal colonies, sweat shops and radioactively contaminated testing grounds is even smaller (than those who would accept a label ‘Made in Chine’ in their clothes); thus, there had been no such shirts ‘Made in North Korea’ – until now.”1

“And this is supposed to be art?” may quite  some readers think, looking at the shirts that are being sold for 135,- €. But not just the edition of 500 pieces each, the plain and elegant design (including the star-shaped vent holes under the arms that are mentioned in all publications) and the slight availability in just a very few shops support this fact (and less so the recurrent “North Korea chic”), but even more work and approach of Dirk Fleischmann, born in 1974:

He already has worked with macro-economical models and not the least with new and networked business models. The shirts and blouses were being manufactured in Kaesong Industrial Complex, a special administrative industrial region close to the inter-Korean border. Many South Korean companies produce in that region – reading the label “Made in Korea”, most consumers prefer to think of South Korea instead of its northern counterpart.

The shirts and blouses of the “Made in North Korea Collection” , produced under the label myfashionindustries, change this with their clear-cut link to their country of origin.

There will surely be criticism: the workers receive a monthly salary of 57.50 US$, that they do not receive directly, but the North Korean state. The government deducts 22.50 US$ for social benefits while exchanging the rest to Won in the official, but overrated exchange rate. Thus, the conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo calculated a monthly net salary of less than 2 US$.

Is the action therefore another example how to make fame and money through post-colonial exploiter methods – or criticising them? Or is it more about naming the country of origin in a globalised economy on one hand, and showing the importance and usefulness of such special administrative industrial regions, supporting peace through stability? The future works of Fleischmann can be awaited with interest.

myfashionindustries Flagship Store
Dongsomun-dong 1-ga, #18-300
136-031 Seoul
Republic of Korea
Opening hours on request by email

In Germany, the shirts are being offered at AZITA in Frankfurt/Main.

An exhibition at Bielefelder Kunstverein complements the work:

Dirk Fleischmann: “Limuranin, Kaesong und Rosario”
4 September until 1 November 2010
Bielefelder Kunstverein
Im Waldhof, Welle 61
33602 Bielefeld
Opening hours: Th/Fr 1500-1900h, Sa/Su 1200-1900, Mo-Mi on request
Opening: 3 September 2010, 1900h

  1. Translation Bayer

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