2016 / People / Culture

All The World's a Stage

  • Photographer
    Scott Woodward

“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." - William Shakespeare For the past 70 years, the North Korean regime has promulgated juche, the pervasive doctrine of self-reliance. The DPRK has long struggled against foreign occupation, molding into the collective consciousness a deep acrimony towards outside influence while remaining the last frontier of isolationism in the modern world. However, despite its tendency toward seclusion, North Korea has raised its curtain in recent years, allowing a small and tightly controlled audience of Western tourists to visit the secretive state. In October 2015, I traveled to North Korea during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Worker’s Party of Korea. The government’s pageantry was a lavish affair: a meticulously choreographed performance featuring thousands of goose-stepping soldiers and a legion of military vehicles rolling through Kim Il-sung Square, and then thundering along Pyongyang’s boulevards, thronged on either side by the flag-waving masses. I expected this demonstration of might, showing the world and reassuring the collective that North Korea is strong, its leadership firmly in control. But the DPRK’s theatrics are not limited to such occasions. I quickly learned that catching a glimpse of real life in the DPRK is nearly impossible. To make the nation appear prosperous to foreign visitors, North Korea has scripted an elaborate fictional production that never breaks for intermission. We were never permitted to leave our state-run hotel alone; accompanied at all times by two government guides, our small tour group was closely monitored, every aspect of our experience carefully stage-managed as we ourselves became guest players in this live theatrical performance. On the rare occasions when we were permitted to marvel upon a garish monument, wander an empty square or gape at an elaborate show, I was always more interested in what was happening stage left or right than in what was taking place at the centre of the stage, much to my minders’ chagrin. This collection represents my endeavors to sneak a peak behind the curtain of North Korea, glimpsing fleeting and unscripted moments of the Hermit Kingdom’s people.