Thursday, March 12, 2009
Propaganda Poster Art Center
The first time I visited the Propaganda Poster Art Center in Shanghai was about a week before our own class visit. A small group of my friends and I found the center to be difficult to locate-- not only are there are no signs that advertise its space, but also the center is located in the basement floor of an apartment building within an apartment complex. This was much to my surprise, as many credible tour guides and tourist maps pinpoint the center on its maps. We eventually found our way with the help of the door guards, who spotted us and handed us a business card and pointed us in the right direction.
I was particularly interested in visiting the center because I had been working with Asia Society last fall when its museum opened the exhibition on "Art and China's Revolution", which was a take on Chinese art and the artists' stories during the Cultural Revolution from 1966-76. While working with AS, I helped transcribe some of the stories and interviews that the artists had done for the exhibition; so, it was really cool to be able to match their stories to the wide collection of print posters, as well as original paintings of the propaganda art produced during that time. I learned that for some of the older artists, the revolution had been difficult for them to be able to express their own works, whereas for some younger artists, the revolution was an opportunity that allowed them to pursue art and see it produced on a large scale.
The first time I visited the center, I only saw the first exhibition space and visited the gift shop. However, it was an experience to be led by Yang Pei Ming, the owner/collector for the center, into a second exhibition space which revealed more original works. I was taken aback by the piles of rubber Mao statues and even more by the Dazibao papers that lined the walls of the space. I wish I could have been able to recognize more Chinese characters, but they had the original writing of Chinese citizens, denouncing anything and everyone (including their families and themselves) that was anti-revolutionary. Chinese calligraphy is beautiful as it is-- even if I couldn't catch every word, the sheer intensity and rough brush/pen strokes in black and red ink were enough to convince me of the revolutionary fervor and Cult of Mao that existed only about 45 years before. It's crazy to think this is still recent history. The Chinese perhaps don't want to be reminded of past hard times, since so many original posters and prints have been destroyed. Perhaps that's why the center was not so easy to find. But Yang has remained determined to collect and preserve this propaganda art as it is a reflection of Chinese history and as he says, "art is what shows the truth in history".
Photos: Propaganda Poster Art Center in Shanghai