>> From oil to coal, even seafood, very few North Korean products have escaped sanctions. But over the Chinese border, fine art has found its way around the limits. Subjects by Pyongyang's painters include explosive propoganda, beautiful women, and the odd tiger portrait. It's all state sponsored. And as sanctions cut off Pyongyang's cash supply, art is playing a bigger role in lining the regime's pockets with hard currency.
Reuters' Sue-Lin Wong reports from the border town of Dandong where Chinese demand for North Korean art has taken off.>> There are tens of art galleries in Dandong and other cities along the boarder that specialize in selling North Korean art, including the one that I'm currently standing in.
These galleries cater towards Chinese tourists who visit the border as well as more serious collectors and bulk buyers from around the country who come to buy art to hang in their hotels and restaurants.>> It's not only curious visitors buying cheap paintings. Some of this pieces are priced in the thousands of us dollars.
And while not all of them reaches the North Korean government, it traces back to a darker side of this million dollar industry. Specifically Pyongyang's top art studio, Mansudae, best known for it's massive sculptures of the Kim family. Mansudae came under sanctions in August when the UN branded it a cash front for North Korean military projects.
Last month, the security council ruled that any joint venture with Pyongyang must be shut down by January. That would seem to apply to galleries in China but the man who runs Mansudae's Beijing gallery says the sanctions don't apply to his business.>> My duty is to help people truly understand North Korea through it's paintings.
I hope communication between China and North Korea can be improved through our exhibition.>> Many art outlets along the border actually host North Korean painters for months at a time. They skirt sanctions by entering China on cultural exchange visas rather than as workers, even though many come from blacklisted studios.
When Reuters asked one gallery owner about North Korean sanctions, he nearly replied, we don't do politics, we do arts.