Page last updated at 05:19 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Australia denies North Korean artists visas

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il is a popular subject for North Korea's artists

The Australian government has been accused of censoring five artists from North Korea by refusing them visas.

But the government says the art is a product of the North Korean propaganda machine and so is not welcome.

Promoters of the art show have argued the visa denial means an opportunity to help one of the world's most closed societies has been lost.

North Korea's Stalinist regime bans access to the internet, outside phone networks, radio, TV, and most travel.

The US special envoy Stephen Bosworth is currently visiting Pyongyang, trying to bring the North back to the negotiating table over ending its nuclear programme.

Art arguments

Some countries have pursued cultural links as a type of "soft diplomacy" - such as the visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to North Korea last year.

The art show in Australia features five artists from the Mansudae Art Studio, who were invited to participate in the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Queensland.

But Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith rejected the artists' bid for an exception to the long-stranding ban on visas for people from North Korea, which is part of United Nations sanctions imposed on the North for its defiance of efforts to end its nuclear programmes.

"The studio reportedly produces almost all of the official artworks in North Korea, including works that clearly constitute propaganda aimed at glorifying and supporting the North Korean regime," the foreign ministry's statement said.

Nick Bonner, a Beijing-based British businessman and art dealer who helped curate the exhibition, said all art studios in North Korea - like most other things in the hard-line state - were government organisations, but that did not mean every work was political.

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