political icons (and art)

Political figures, artists, intellectuals and unruly elements have readily used emblems, icons and cultural paraphernalia both to express themselves and to claim, or generate, cultural capital.
Sometimes the commercial sector has treated Party icons as considerably less than sacrosanct, but in ways that were anything but hostile. Indeed, this commercialization of Party icons has played on the fact that many people feel comfortable with the icons—and it is this sense of familiarity, driven home through the new commercialization, that indirectly reinforces of political legitimacy.
Since the Cultural Revolution the Great Wall has been promoted as an ancient artifact and symbol of Chinese resilience. Although the present wall is a late-dynastic creation, it has been used to epitomize variously the solidarity of the masses and the strength of the People’s Liberation Army. The creators of the 1988 tele-series River Elegy used the wall as a metaphor for China’s inward-looking, landlocked recidivism, while for neo-patriots in the 1990s it was emblematic of continuity, strength and diversity in unity. The artist Xu Bing decided to beat the problem, literally, by making rubbings of the wall into avant-garde art. Xu is also famous for having created—with the help of dedicated artisans—a majestic artwork out of hand-carved nonsense characters. His Book of Heaven is a gibberish testament to the semiotic turn popular among some practitioners of contemporary Chinese art during the 1980s.
Others have preferred more embodied icons. In the early months of Red Guard agitation in 1966, the Monkey King (Sun Wukong, or Houwang)—the much-loved upstart hero of the Wu Cheng’en’s novel Journey to the West (Xiyou ji)—was used as a symbol of rebellion, and in the reform era the lovable rascal has been a popular figure among manufacturers and consumers alike. Mao Zedong, the politician who authorized the contemporary valence of the Monkey King, having famously compared himself to the fictional character, has also been transmogrified into a public icon that has repeatedly been re-branded since his demise in 1976. After taxidermy successfully solved the problem of the Great Leader’s physical remains, a sanitized version of Mao was claimed by the Party-state as a patriot and statesman. But his is an unquiet ghost that appeals to different constituencies. In the new, mass Mao cult of the early 1990s, his image featured in a plethora of popular and garish guises (on T-shirts, in talismans, on cigarette lighters, and so on); meanwhile, from the 1980s non-official artists found in his image a daunting inspiration (Li Shan), a lingering spectre that had to be exorcized (Wang Keping, Zhang Hongtu, et al.) or playfully celebrated (Wang Guangyi and Yu Youhan), and their remade images of the Chairman readily found an international audience, and buyers.
Dal Lago, Francesca (1999). ‘Personal Mao: Reshaping an Icon in Contemporary Chinese Art’. Art Journal 58 (Summer).
——(2002). ‘Images, Words and Violence: Cultural Revolution Influences on Chinese Avant-Garde Art’. In Wu Hong (ed), Chinese Art at the Crossroads: Between Past and Future. Hong Kong: New Art Media.
GEREMIE R.BARMÉ

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Art Exhibitions and Art Sales — ▪ 1994 Introduction Art Exhibitions       If the Matisse exhibition was the leading show in 1992, then its worthy sequel in 1993 was the exhibition of paintings from the Barnes Collection in Merion, Pa. The traveling exhibition of masterpieces of …   Universalium

  • ART — This article is arranged according to the following outline: Antiquity to 1800 INTRODUCTION: JEWISH ATTITUDE TO ART biblical period the sanctuary and first temple period second temple period after the fall of jerusalem relation to early christian …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Art, Antiques, and Collections — ▪ 2003 Introduction       In 2002 major exhibitions such as Documenta 11 reflected the diverse nature of contemporary art: artists from a variety of cultures received widespread recognition for work ranging from installation to video to painting …   Universalium

  • Art in Roman Catholicism — Roman Catholic art consists of all visual works produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This includes sculpture, painting, mosaics, metalwork, embroidery and even… …   Wikipedia

  • art criticism — Description, interpretation, and evaluation of works of art, manifested in journal reviews, books, and patronage. Art criticism encompasses a wide variety of approaches, from critical commentary to more subjective emotional reactions inspired by… …   Universalium

  • art — art1 /ahrt/, n. 1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. 2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art… …   Universalium

  • Art — /ahrt/, n. a male given name, form of Arthur. * * * I also called visual art A visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination. The term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture,… …   Universalium

  • ART — Ling. article: often used to represent the class of determiners, including words such as this, that, and some as well as the articles a, an, and the. * * * I also called visual art A visual object or experience consciously created through an… …   Universalium

  • Art Deco — The art deco spire of the Chrysler Building in New York, built 1928–1930 …   Wikipedia

  • Art of Bosnia and Herzegovina — Ancient Heritage Prehistory there have been many layers of prehistory cultures and their creation and disappearance is linked to migrations of unidentified ethnic groups. Paleolithic in B H is market with oldest monument of Paleolithic in… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.