Zhang Wei, The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Source: Asia Society website)
Making a landscape sketch was never taken for granted in the late 1970s’ China. Art was either instructed to serve official propaganda or refrained from creative expression. Groups of artists, who were and some still are true believers of art, then fought for one thing that may easily be assumed nowadays: artists should have the right to freely express their artistic ideals. The subhead of this exhibition explains the above background.
“Light before Dawn. Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985” unveiled the curtain at Asia Society since mid-May. Upon entering the gallery, two sculptures at the far end of the hall, to me, summarised perfectly the theme of the exhibition. The wood works were created by Wang Keping (王克平) – the “Idol” (1979) on the left, needless to elaborate, represents Chairman Mao while the “Silence” (1979) on the right stands for common people in the period with a blinded eye and a plugged up mouth. Looking at the brushstrokes, archived photos, yellowed ticket stubs of “legitimate” exhibitions, I understand it’s part of the history. This exhibition not only reinforces the significance of freedom of creative expression but also witnesses how these artist groups marked the history of Chinese art.
Images from the internet
What made my visit even more special was that I visited the day before July 1. Indeed I’ve been thinking what slogan I should bring along on the annual protest. Then I got my answer when I saw the work by Qu Leilei (曲磊磊) for his writing underneath a drawing: 這軟弱無力的雙手將變成強有力的拳頭。我是詩人。To him, being a poet exerts his power. Qu confessed in a publication of his group, Xing Xing (星星) that the purpose of art is not its social function at all. The intrinsic value of art is to express oneself. For me, being a citizen of the city gives me the right to walk on the street; the intrinsic value of this act is to have my voice truly and openly heard.
Another “comrade” of Qu and Wang was Ai Weiwei (艾未未). The curators didn’t exploit his fame by putting Ai’s works at the farthest corner of the hall. Ai’s wooden stool currently showing in Venice Biennial in an extensive scale was also featured along with some of his early works. When Ai’s works are seemingly everywhere in the world, don’t envy but pay a visit to Asia Society at Admiralty.
Light before Dawn. Unofficial Chinese Art 1974-1985 at Asia Society, Hong Kong
Visited on June 30, 2013
The article was also posted at The House News.