LOWER EAST SIDE — The medium is sweet, but this art is serious.
Korean artist Jin Joo Chae uses melted chocolate to create pieces designed to shed light on human rights abuses and political issues in North Korea. Her first solo show, called "The Choco Pie-ization of North Korea," focuses on the popular South Korean dessert Choco Pie, now a highly prized commodity on North Korea's black market.
"It is about the power of the Choco Pie to change a society as they [North Koreans] learn about the concept of capitalism from Choco Pies," said the South Korea-born Chae, 31, who just finished an MFA at Columbia University. "It is a kind of currency now in North Korea."
The show, opening Wednesday at the Julie Meneret Contemporary Art gallery at 133 Orchard St., uses the desserts — made of cream sandwiched between two layers of cake and covered in chocolate — to draw attention to the contrasts between North and South Korea.
Chae said she is concerned that South Koreans have become complacent about tensions with the north, and she hopes her work will highlight the many difficulties North Koreans face, including hunger.
"The Choco Pie in South Korea or here is 25 cents," Chae said. "When they [North Koreans] sell [it] on the black market it is $10, but their monthly wage is under $100."
To create her artwork, Chae melts either milk, dark or bittersweet chocolate. She then uses the mixture as ink, screen printing chocolate words and images on sheets of the North Korean Workers' Newspaper.
In the piece "Choco Pie with Capitalist Cream," the words "Choco Pie" mimic the logo of Coca Cola, drawing a connection between the two treats as symbols of capitalism.
"As a South Korean, I firmly believe I have a responsibility and feel urgent about the situation," she said of North Korea's human rights issues. "I just want to tell the story, to let people know what the situation is."
The Choco Pie-ization of North Korea exhibition runs from Jan. 8 to Feb. 23 at Julie Meneret Contemporary Art gallery, 133 Orchard St. The gallery will host a talk on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. with Stephen Noerper, an artist, scholar and expert on North Korea.