Last summer the China/North Korea friendship flowered like it was blessed by the Dear Leader himself, as China gifted a lovely wax figure of Kim Jong-il to the nearby hermit kingdom. In the months that followed, The Guardian has been doing some legwork and caught up with the Chinese artist who moonlights as the official wax-sculptor of the DPRK.
Zhang Molei is apparently “China’s foremost exponent of the art [of wax working]” and said that, predictably, working directly with the highest echelons of the North Korean government comes with some quirks:
For North Korean people it’s like being close to a god. They respect the figures in the way they would respect the actual person; it’s not just a piece of art. Even senior officials keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres. No one would touch their clothes or hair. […]
[The briefings from officials were] detailed to a degree you cannot imagine.
When Kim Jong-il was edging towards the great dictatorship in the sky, the elderly ruler’s health had started to deteriorate and liver spots (small blemishes on the skin) had started to make their way across Dear Leader’s face. This became a great area of contention in the wax-molding process:
A lengthy debate over Kim Jong-il’s liver spots threatened to derail the project until it was referred to the very top.
“He had quite a lot when he got older. The North Koreans thought the waxwork should not have any at all, and I thought we could reduce them but should have a few. So we had several rounds of debate about this and couldn’t reach agreement. In the end, Kim Jong-un said it was not good to erase all of the marks and we could keep some. He made the decision,” Zhang said.
Zhang has also made wax models of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, among others, and is about to start sculpting Lei Feng, because why not.