Thursday, March 12, 2009
I found the propaganda exhibit to be the most interesting of the galleries we have visited recently. It was fascinating to walk along the posters noticing the developments of styles and messages presented. It is, in a sense, a historical lens into China's recent history and the social, political and economic desires of the government. The early posters had a surreal cartoonish style to them reminiscent of European early forays into the new medium of large-scale industrial print propaganda. As the Korean war drew to a close, you can see the entrance of more Socialist-realism influences with the idealized and heroic workers in their utopian communities. An interesting side note was the influence of the 1930s Shanghai calendar girl poster on some of these 1950s posters. The change to the red-art style of the cultural revolution and there violent and militaristic themes is a sudden shift that gives the reader some impression of the mood of the time.
I was most interested in he collection of big-character posters (dazibao) tucked away in the back room. These posters to me are the most powerful work of the cultural revolution. Each poster is so bound up with fear, violence, paranoia, and chaos with students denouncing teachers for being reactionary because they actually believed or they were too scared not to attack and look like a rightist-sympathizer. The mention of these works of calligraphy on paper as art pieces in themselves (as opposed to historical documents) brings up ethical considerations about what art can be used for and what it can do. Many people's careers (and more) were ruined by such posters (it is possible that someone's life was ruined by one of the posters on display). And yet many of the posters were imaginative creations, bearing almost no link to any truth, standing as works contained only within themselves yet still having such a real ability to drag the physical world into the reality of their illusions