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Picturing Power: Posters of the Cultural Revolution

A few decades after the decadent and glitzy heyday of Shanghai in the 20s and 30s, the period of upheaval known as the Cultural Revolution made its own indelible mark on modern Chinese history. Movies from China’s “Fifth Generation” filmmakers, such as Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, have given us one type of look into the period, but another unique angle is provided by an exhibition called “Picturing Power: Posters of the Cultural Revolution.” “Picturing Power” is a traveling exhibit that originated at Indiana University and makes use of a unique collection of posters held at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London.

The collection at Westminster brings together several hundred posters spanning the period between the late 1960s and the late 1980s. John Gittings, then Senior Lecturer of the Chinese Section, began the collection in 1979 as the “China Visual Arts Project” for research and teaching purposes. Over the years it grew, with the contributions of other colleagues, students and friends who studied and traveled in China.

To see the hundreds of posters in the collection all at once, you’ll likely have to visit the University of Westminster itself, as just a fraction of these were selected for the traveling exhibit. Only a meager introduction to the exhibit, which seemed at its peak in 1999, now remains on the Westminster site at http://cci.wmin.ac.uk/chinp/. Some more useful information is offered by Indiana University at http://www.indiana.edu/~easc/exhibit/project.html.

Fortunately for us, a relative mother lode of images from this exhibition can be found on an Ohio State University site. This version of the exhibition divides the images into four periods between 1963 and 1979, and for each poster it provides (1) a preview image, (2) a “full screen” image that could be used for your computer desktop wallpaper, (3) the title, artist and date/place of the poster, and (4) a brief description of or commentary on the work.

All in all, the 70-plus posters in the Ohio State University archive, with titles like “Chairman Mao is our Heart’s Red Sun” and “The Chinese People Cannot Be Easily Humiliated” provide us with some interesting and occasionally entertaining insights into the propaganda machine in operation during China’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

Visit the Ohio State University version of this exhibition online at http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/exhib/poster/exhibintro.html.

February 2003

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