The art of Jin Joo Chae, a native of South Korea living in New York, is unique in many respects, but none more so than her chosen medium: chocolate.
For Chae, the chocolate is not just a sweet confection—it is also representative of a difference in pay between the factory workers of her native South Korea and the communist North.
Among other, more drastic differences in the quality of life between North and South, North Korean workers in Kaesong were paid bonuses in small cake-like pastries known as Choco Pies.
ABC News reports these Choco Pies were extremely valuable on North Korea’s black market due to widespread food shortage and malnourishment. Some sources claim that individual pies can sell for as much as $10 each when average monthly income is as little as $100 to $200.
The Daily North Korean has called these figures into question. However, the figures confirm that the prices of the cakes are still rather high and are often replaced with Chinese equivalents.
Prices aside, Chae’s work hopes to call attention to North Korea’s inequalities by working in chocolate-based paints.
North Korean newspapers act as canvas in Chae’s work, where prints Choco Pie logos appear in the style of Coca-Cola ads. Several of these prints are followed with text that reads “with capitalist cream.” Chae points to the “taste” of capitalism North Korean workers receive in the South Korean operated Kaesong district.
Beyond malnourishment, a recent report by the United Nations points to more grievous issues in the North. This report focuses on crimes against humanity, including the torture and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of “political prisoners.”
Chae’s installation, “The Choco Pie-ization of North Korea,” may be focused on chocolate, but it is making national news as North Korea’s problems have raised international concern. The U.N. is now demanding that the international community hold North Korean officials responsible for human rights abuses.
Chae’s unique and poignant work is on display in New York City through the end of February at the Julie Meneret Contemporary Art gallery.
– Chase Colton