Invitation to the 55th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK | Collection of Nicholas Bonner

NORTH KOREA’s Graphic Design

A fascinating insight into the image the DPRK wants to portray to both citizens and the few visitors they allow.

In the one-party state of North Korea there are no private companies: every item that bears a design, from food labels and event tickets to wrapping paper, postcards and posters, has been designed, approved and manufactured by the state.

in 2018 London’s House of Illustration has hosted the UK’s first exhibition of graphic design from the country.

Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics in the DPRK; everyday objects collected by Nicholas Bonner, who has unique relationship with the country.

Hand-painted poster saying "Everything for the full achievement of the 1979 People’s Economic Plan" | Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photographs by Justin Piperger

Sweet packet, early 1990s | Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photograph by Justin Piperger

Bonner first visited North Korea in 1993 on a study trip to China.

On his return he set up Koryo Tours and has been leading group visits to the DPRK for 25 years.

He is also the founder of Koryo Studio, who commission and sell work by DPRK artists, and has produced three award-winning documentaries about North Korea:

The Game of Their Lives (2002), A State of Mind (2004) and Crossing the Line (2006).

Bonner says: “The collection represents common objects given beautiful status by the hand-drawn graphics from North Korea’s most creative designers.

Some of the work is elaborate but the basic designs too should not be overlooked – minimalistic simplicity creating beautifully rhythmic artwork.”

See also Bonner's book Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life in the DPRK.

Candy assortment box showing the Red Flag train on the east coast of Korea | Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photograph courtesy of Phaidon

Assorted tinned food labels for pork, green beans and fish | Collection of Nicholas Bonner, photograph courtesy of Phaidon


Democratic People's Republic of Korea


North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or DPR Korea), is a country in East Asia constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang the capital and the largest city in the country. To the north and northwest, the country is bordered by China and by Russia along the Amnok (known as the Yalu in Chinese) and Tumen rivers; it is bordered to the south by South Korea, with the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two. Nevertheless, North Korea, like its southern counterpart, claims to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula and adjacent islands.

In 1910, Korea was annexed by Imperial Japan. After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was divided into two zones, with the north occupied by the Soviet Union and the south occupied by the United States. Negotiations on reunification failed, and in 1948, separate governments were formed: the socialist Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea in the south. An invasion initiated by North Korea led to the Korean War (1950–1953). The Korean Armistice Agreement brought about a ceasefire, but no peace treaty was signed.

North Korea officially describes itself as a "self-reliant" socialist state, and formally holds elections, though said elections have been described by outside observers as sham elections. Various media outlets have called it Stalinist, particularly noting the elaborate cult of personality around Kim Il-sung and his family. The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), led by a member of the ruling family, holds power in the state and leads the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland of which all political officers are required to be members. Juche, an ideology of national self-reliance, was introduced into the constitution in 1972. The means of production are owned by the state through state-run enterprises and collectivized farms. Most services such as healthcare, education, housing and food production are subsidized or state-funded. From 1994 to 1998, North Korea suffered a famine that resulted in the deaths of between 240,000 and 420,000 people, and the population continues to suffer malnutrition. North Korea follows Songun, or "military-first" policy. It is the country with the highest number of military and paramilitary personnel, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve and paramilitary personnel, or approximately 37% of its population. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the fourth largest in the world, after China, the United States and India; consisting of 4.8% of its population.

  • Article partially sourced BBC Arts
  • Facts & Figures partially sourced Wikipedia