Friday, September 19, 2008

Art and the Cultural Revolution

Before I went to see the Asia Society's exhibit "Art and China's Revolution," I didn't expect it would have much impact on me. I couldn't imagine that things from the Cultural Revolution period could be an art scene exhibited in the West.

But when I visited the exhibit this week, I was totally impressed with everything I saw. All those oil paintings were so familiar to me (they were the everyday scene during the Cultural Revolution), but I'd never seen the original paintings myself and didn't expect them to be so large and powerful! Besides oil paintings, there are posters, wood prints, sculptures, water color paintings, and more. Yes, the themes of these works of art are very revolutionary, but they are all art pieces that actually illustrate the period of time we experienced. I also saw the posters that were once on the streets, at schools and even in homes, the Mao pins each of us wore, the rice bowls, plates, and other household products we used, along with all things culture revolution. Together they reminded me of the era I grew up in and the ideology in which we were trained.

This exhibit may have shown the Cultural Revolution from a perspective new to many Westerners. Having grown up in that period - even though I learned Mao's quotations by heart every day, witnessed terrible scenes on the streets, and saw my Mom, who taught at Beijing University, separated from her family for about four years (I saw her only 12 days a year when she returned to Beijing from the countryside's unversity camp) - I still enjoyed my childhood, my school, my friends and whatever I did at that time. I believe I am who I am now partly because of what I experiened and learned in my childhood.

I don't mean that I want to go back to that period, but there is another side of the story Westerners may not know. Perhaps you can start with this exhibit. Please visit the exhibit if you're in the city; if not, you can see and learn about the show from Asia Society's website.