BEIJING - An art exhibition in China by a North Korean defector has been cancelled, gallery staff said Monday, with reports saying the show had been dismantled on official orders.
Sun Mu, who slipped out of North Korea in 1998 and uses a pseudonym because of concerns for his safety, paints satirical imitations of Pyongyang's propaganda imagery.
An exhibition of his works had been due to open at the Yuan Dian gallery at the weekend, but China is Pyongyang's key diplomatic backer and aid provider, even if their relationship has been strained by the antics of leader Kim Jong-Un.
"Chinese police blocked people from entering the museum," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, adding that officers "removed his paintings and ad banners hung around the museum".
"Some North Korean people who are believed to work at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing were witnessed at the scene," it said.
Chinese authorities maintain strict censorship controls in all media and online, with art also subject to restrictions.
On Monday a sign on the door of the modernist concrete, steel and glass structure in suburban Beijing read: "The exhibition opening has been suspended for some reasons. Thank you for your understanding." A staff member declined to elaborate to AFP, saying that the show had been "cancelled for internal reasons" and that management were working on an alternative project.
Sun Mu, whose works have reportedly fetched up to $20,000 (S$24,830) each, does not allow himself to be photographed out of fears that the relatives he left behind in North Korea could be targeted for retribution.
Posters for the exhibition available online show that it was to be called "Red White Blue". They quote the organisers saying it was a reference to the colours of the flags of the six countries "at the heart of the very complicated situation of the Korean peninsula" - North and South Korea, China, Japan, the US and Russia.
The artist would not be able to attend his own opening, they said, for fear that his true identity might be revealed.
There were no references to the show on the gallery's own website on Monday.
Beijing police did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AFP.