At first glance, The Beautiful Future—a series of paintings made in Pyongyang, North Korea—looks like standard propaganda fare: Happy citizens, lush farmlands, and bustling industry. Except something's amiss: In the background of each painting stands an iconic piece of Beijing architecture—from the CCTV building to the Olympic Water Cube.

According to The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright, the paintings were commissioned by a pair of Beijing ex-pats named Nick Bonner (who runs North Korean tour guide company Koryo Tours) and Dominic Johnson-Hill, who worked closely with a handful of Pyongyang artists beginning in 2008. The duo sent along renderings and sketches of contemporary Beijing architecture, asking the state-trained painters to re-imagine them in their preferred style.

The paintings, which were presented as part of Beijing Design Week earlier this month, cast Beijing in the hyperbolic style of Social Realism. It's as if Mao never died; Instead of the bustle of the modern-day city, the Bird's Nest is surrounded by flowers and frolicking children. Meanwhile, OMA's massive CCTV building springs from wide plains of wheat and peach trees. Office workers march through their co-workers cubicles, waving red flags.


Of course, these fictional scenes are impossible; Without the boom spurred by the economic reforms in the 1970s, Beijing wouldn't have developed into the city it is today. It's the future, painted in the light of the past. [Guardian]