Multiple perspectives of North Korea


“NO MOTHERLAND WITHOUT YOU” – Some of Tom Wagner’s 40 pieces from North Korea displayed in Depree Art Center Gallery. (Photo by Kelly Ocock)

North Korean’s fear of their government, as depicted in the news, now can be seen through art. The DePree Art Center and Gallery is hosting the exhibition, “No Motherland Without You” featuring images from North Korea.

Tom Wagner, the artist behind the thought-provoking photographs, is a Hope College alumnus and an award winning editorial photographer. Wagner is displaying a set of 40 photographs from four trips to North Korea during the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s. The work presents North Korea as a place of looking, of guessing, of watching and of begin watched.

During his artist’s talk, he had the group gather in the gallery instead of speaking in the auditorium saying, “The work is what this is all about.” Wagner’s love for his art was especially illustrated as he explained the pictures were chosen from boxes of about 4000 total photographs.

The gallery is set up to show three different aspects of North Korea: the propaganda, the people, and those in power. With so many stories about this country in the media, it is easy to create ideas of what the situation may look like. Wagner’s photographs give the viewer an eye-opening experience and help the first steps toward empathy.

Wagner expressed his desire to capture what he could of North Korea stating, “it is a country driven by fear.” North Koreans are currently begin led by the third generation of the Kim dynasty. Those in power hold surveillance over the people effecting their daily lives.

“For anybody who goes to North Korea, there’s a question of how much of the experience you bring to yourself,” Wagner shared. “How much are you being watch? How much are you being listened to? You never really know.”

Wagner has worked globally for magazines and Fortunes 500 corporations in portraiture, news and stories covering people and events ranging from factories to A-list celebrities, from in-depth reportage of subcultures to breaking news events.

Currently, based in West Michigan, he was in Tokyo, Japan for more than 10 years and London, England, for more than five years, and has done assignments in more than 35 countries.

Through displaying different aspects of the country, Wagner wanted to send the important message of getting all the facts for any situation.

As humans, there is a desire to feel certain of our knowledge, but in reality, certainty cannot be found solely in one person’s perspective. If you are interested in viewing Wagner’s work, the exhibit will be up through Thursday, March 16th. Public and students are all encouraged to view the exhibition. Admission is free.

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