Julie Meneret Contemporary Art presents The Choco Pie-ization of North Korea, a solo exhibition by Jin Joo Chae. Join us at the opening reception on January 8 at 6pm. The exhibition will continue until February 23.
Jin Joo Chae draws inspiration from her experience as a Korean living abroad. She is concerned with the way that American news represents international events, especially the tense dynamics between North and South Korea. Using fragile and fragrant media such as newspaper and screen-printed chocolate, she manipulates dominant political narratives to suggest more complex and physically embodied realities. Playful modes and materials are subverted to suggest a certain despair and helplessness, a desire for transformation. Chae wants her audience to learn something from her work, and in fact the urge to tell stories unknown outside Korea has become her necessity and responsibility, driving her art practice as a whole.
For this exhibition with Julie Meneret Contemporary Art, Chae continues her project with the consequential Choco Pie, a popular South Korean dessert. Choco Pies are given out in lieu of forbidden cash bonuses to North Korean workers in the demilitarized Kaesong Industrial Complex, the only place where the two countries have any contact. The workers don’t eat the treats; they sell them on the black market for prices that can exceed $10 each, despite an average monthly income of $150. Although exact data is hard to come by, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded in the North monthly. Because of dire economic circumstances, almost half of North Korean families earn their entire income from private trading, according to research done by the Peterson Institute. Women play a major role in this market, which constitutes civil disobedience in a country where resistance is rare. Marshmallow cakes gained popularity via American soldiers in East Asia during World War II and the Korean War. Orion, a South Korean confectionary company began producing Choco Pies in 1974, and the word is now accepted as a common noun in Korean due to its extreme popularity.
Chae adapts the Choco Pie logo in the style of the Coca-Cola brand, symbolic of not just of U.S. economic dominance in developing countries around the world but also of the ideology of neoliberalism. She screen prints chocolate on New York Times and Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party. This newspaper is extremely hard to come by outside North Korean borders, becoming a commodity in its own right. Choco Pies have served to introduce capitalism to a society closed off from the world. Chae cleverly uses this humble and absurd example as an entry point into a seemingly impenetrable global system. Her formal interventions reveal personal truths—hopes, desires, frustrations—and point to a fundamental malleability of meaning in a world ruled by capital.
A graduate of Columbia School of the Arts and Hongik University in Seoul, Chae has exhibited in the United States, Europe, and throughout Asia. She is an accomplished printmaker and has participated in international print exhibitions and biennials, including at the International Print Center New York in Fall 2013. Her works are in the collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the Seoul Museum of Art, and Sakima Art Museum in Okinawa.