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Number 1 Shimbun

Exhibition: Memories of Pyongyang




Photography and video by Ciel Liu

OUR TRIP TO PYONGYANG consisted almost entirely of carefully scheduled activities, with guides that rarely left our side when we were outside of the hotel. Still, it was a rare opportunity to observe the people in this reclusive country and to think about their lives.

The disconnection from the outside world is palpable. In this city, time and space are defined by propaganda-driven activities like visits to monuments and performances. The enormous clockwork mechanism of mass-dance practices and labor duties never ceases to spin. It is fascinating, and not a little unsettling.

The city planning is monolithic, with apartment block after apartment block stretching out in an order so neat and structured it continues to haunt the mind. Advertising and other signs of commercial activity are extremely rare. The ever-present contrast between tightly restricted self-expression and an over-enthusiasm to defend government propaganda challenges our concepts of freedom and personal fulfillment. Here, one must at all times be of a single body and mind with the regime.

Is this loyalty sincere or a product of fear? Many of the people we encountered seemed curious about us, yet were scared to look at us for long. Did they – could they – imagine other ways of life?

Eight days was a short time to discover Pyongyang, yet it was a life-changing experience. It challenged everything I knew and took for granted.

On this journey, I learned something about the complexity of the human condition and about what everyday life can look like in places very different from those we know. I hope my photographs will inspire thought, not only about the lives of the citizens of Pyongyang but also about the feelings and preconceptions that we harbor within ourselves.


After the completion of her MA in Photography and Electronic Arts in London, Ciel Liu started her career as a reporter for the Mandarin television channels in Singapore and worked as a freelancer creating contents for clients in different countries. Currently she is working extensively with traditional craftsmen and culture in Japan, and documenting the Outsider artists in Cuba.


Published in: April 2017

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