AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 3)

Cai Guo-Qiang’s Exhibition Theme

As an exhibition designer, my theme is to focus on one aspect of Cai Guo-Qiang’s works, which is the use of gunpowder as a medium for his art. Gunpowder has been used as a weapon of destruction for centuries, but Cai has transformed it into a medium for creation, a medium that has allowed him to create awe-inspiring works of art.

The use of gunpowder as a medium for art is not only unique but also significant in understanding art in 20th century China. It reflects the cultural and political context in which Cai grew up and how it has influenced his artistic vision. Cai was born in Quanzhou, China, and grew up during the Cultural Revolution, a period of great social and political upheaval in China. He was also trained in traditional Chinese painting, which heavily influenced his art.

Cai’s use of gunpowder as a medium is a reflection of his desire to break free from the constraints of traditional Chinese painting and to experiment with new mediums and forms. It is a reflection of
his interest in exploring the relationship between art, nature, and the environment. Cai’s gunpowder works are not just about the process of creation but also about the process of destruction and the cyclical nature of life.

In my exhibition design, I will showcase a selection of Cai’s gunpowder works, including his famous “Gunpowder Drawing” series. I will also include a video installation that shows the process of creating these works, highlighting the physicality and danger involved in the creation of gunpowder art.

By focusing on Cai’s use of gunpowder as a medium for his art, my exhibition design aims to contribute to our understanding of art in 20th century China. It reflects the cultural and political context in which Cai grew up and how it has influenced his artistic vision. It also highlights the importance of experimentation and breaking free from traditional forms in art. Finally, it encourages the audience to consider the relationship between art, nature, and the environment, and how art can be a reflection of our interactions with the world around us.


Work cited:

Neuendorf, Henri. “Watch Cai Guo-Qiang’s Explosive Performance.” Artnet News, 16 Apr. 2016, news.artnet.com/art-world/cai-guo-qiang-gunpoweder-performance-475250. Accessed 15 May 2023.

ROFFINO, SARA . “Cai Guo-Qiang Burns up the Art Scene This Fall.” Galerie, 18 Sept. 2017, galeriemagazine.com/snapshot-cai-guo-qiang/. Accessed 15 May 2023.

Sadie Hill Exhibition Theme

Zhang Hongtu is a Chinese artist living and working in Queens, New York. He was young at the beginning of the cultural revolution in Beijing. Members of his family lost jobs and were killed as a result of his being muslim and overall violence of that political era, so Mao and the cultural revolution heavily influences his work. Zhang’s style is contemporary with a pop art technique. I was drawn to his art because of the humor that radiates from his works. His portfolio is fun and funny with a flare that we only just started seeing from some of the modernism we are looking at in class which makes sense because Zhang made many of his works in the 1980’s. I also like the sense of rebellion his art portrays as the portraits and sculptures he creates are of highly controversial and oftentimes taboo topics that would likely be seen differently if viewed in china rather than America.

For my exhibition, I would like to highlight the work Zhang Hongtu does in relation to the image of Mao. In class we studied the importance and historical significance of Mao’s image; how it has been policed and micromanaged ever since he came into power. Zhang Hongtu has many images of Mao that he made throughout the 80s and 90s. I would like to take some images of Mao made by Zhang Hongtu, and some made by other sanctioned artists (Mao’s Tiannamen portrait, portraits painted by the red guards, portraits allowed by Zhang’s wife) and juxtapose them in the same space. The goal is to reveal how an image of a person changes when there is complete artistic freedom versus when the artist is confined to the rules and regulations of a certain regime.

Below, I’ve included one image of Mao by Zhang Hongtu, and the current painting of Mao Zedong inn Tiananmen Square. The portrait by Zhang is called “Mao After Picasso” and it is from 2012. I plan on placing these two images adjacent to each other in a very prominent area of the exhibit. I think they show exactly what I am looking to portray in this exhibit. Because of the colors, angles, expressions and overall compositions, these are two completely different Mao’s. When walking around this exhibit, I hope the audience would question not only Mao Zedong, but leaders and politicians in their own life and how imagery sanctioned by those in power changes their perspective of the person. Because, even something as simple as the shape of their face, can completely change a persons persona.


“Q. and A.: The Artist Zhang Hongtu on Appropriating Mao’s Image.” New York Times, March 21st, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/world/asia/zhang-hongtu-artist-mao-china.html


Feng Zikai Exhibition Theme

Feng Zikai was an influential artist spanning from 1898 to 1975. Feng Zikai was well known for his cartoons focused on the message of innocence. His work took traditional Chinese ink techniques to create easy to interpret works that would be enjoyable to viewers of any age.  Feng Zikai created comics during eras of political conflicts, such as the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-1945, and the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949. With times of intense political conflict such as these, artists were limited in their creative liberty. Many popular well-accepted works of this period followed certain guidelines and political propaganda messages. Feng Zikai focused on his messages of innocence and the image of children instead of creating overly political comics which had set him apart from other artists of this time. Feng Zikai was a father, and it was no secret that his own children had served as an inspiration for his works. The familial ties that he held to his subjects allowed for his work to be even more intimate. Today, Feng Zikai’s art is praised for being some of the first children’s illustrations while also providing beautiful messages of innocence that everyone could hold onto.

For my exhibition, I wanted to focus on one of the most prominent and important themes that Feng Zikai had repeatedly used. The imagery of children and the metaphor for innocence is important in much of Feng Zikai’s works, and for my exhibit I would like to honor that. I would like to display some of his most impactful works with the imagery of children used in it, such as “Broken Heart” and the “Education” series that he had created. I found the way that Feng Zikai used symbolism was beautiful and perfectly captured the essence of childhood and humility. These two works capture the imagination and the weight of emotion that a child understands more than an adult. In “Education No 2” the child is seen pretending to have a bike with fan plants. The child seems content and fulfilled despite the simplicity of their belongings. On the other hand, the child in “Broken Heart” is shown in distress due to a broken toy. This image is a large contrast to the political setting that Feng Zikai had been in as he worked on this image. His works feel light and gentle, and with my exhibit I would like to reflect that. The aspect of innocence was more powerful than politics in Feng Zikai’s work, and the exhibition would reflect that as well.


Left: “Broken Heart”, 1926          Right: “Education No 2” 1927


Hung, Chang-Tai. “The Fuming Image: Cartoons and Public Opinion in Late Republican China, 1945 to 1949.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36, no. 1 (1994): 122–45. http://www.jstor.org/stable/179329.

Laureillard, Marie. Regret of spring: The child according to Feng Zikai. 2014.
Accessed April 20, 2023. https://hal.science/hal-00983929/document.


Exhibition Theme

Feng Mengbo was born in Bejing, China 1966. The Cultural Revolution in China had just started in 1966 and did not end until 1976. Feng Mengbo’s childhood was heavily influenced by the Cultural Revolution. When the Cultural Revolution ended after Mao Zedong’s death on September 9th, 1976, there was no central authority. Feng graduated undergrad school during this era. He graduated “from the Design Department at the Beijing School of Arts and Crafts in 1985.” Because there was no central authority, there was a brief 13 year period was until the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Feng completed his master’s degree at the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1992, studying under artist Xu Bing.” One year after completing his master’s degree, Feng got his first computer. It was then that Feng started to create his now famous “digital media” art.

1993 was revolutionary because the worldwide web (www) had just come out as the first form of “internet” on computers around the world. Feng’s unique take on his media artwork was soon noticed by people around the world. This was because Feng revolutionized the world of video game art by playing the latest video games. He would draw inspirations from these video games, by putting himself and his own touch on each video game platform he drew. Video games were a “virtual reality” to Feng. He wanted to put himself in each video game he played, as if he were the main character. Most of his artworks came from the video games “Street Fighter” by Capcom and “Super Mario Brothers” by Nintendo. Of course, he drew himself in other video games as well but the video games with the most red in them were his biggest influence. This was because of the Cultural Revolution (China was already the People’s Republic of China and it was Communist, so the color red played an important role in Feng’s childhood). Most of Feng’s inspirations for choosing video games like Street Fighter for artwork are because the Cultural Revolution had a big impact on his life. He incorporated violence and the color red into is digital artworks to set a secret communist tone while still portraying the fun manipulation video games have on reality.

Feng’s earlier works will be used in my Exhibition, the artwork featured above being the most important.


Works Cited

“Feng Mengbo Biography, Artworks & Exhibitions.” Ocula the best in contemporary art icon. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://ocula.com/artists/feng-mengbo/.

Luka’s Interesting Link


In this link, the readers get an in-depth information on the symbolic meaning of the monuments and memorials in the Square, including the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People. The author, Wu Hung,  explores how these monuments have been used by the Chinese government to legitimize its power and promote its political ideology, and how they have been reinterpreted and recontextualized by different groups over time. The book also analyzes the role of Tiananmen Square in shaping Chinese national identity and the construction of a Chinese historical narrative. Wu Hung looks at how the Square has been represented in Chinese art, literature, and media, and how it has been used as a symbol of Chinese national pride and unity.

I chose this journal article because it is well written and give an insight on the monuments at the Tiananmen Square from the artist’s perspective as well as the political point of view, and how these monuments contributed to shape modern Chinese culture.

“Fondation” Zao Wou Ki

https://www.zaowouki.org/en/ (“Zao Wou-Ki Foundation”) is a website dedicated to the renowned Chinese-French artist Zao Wou Ki (1921 – 2013). The website features a wide range of information about Zao Wou Ki, including but not limited to his works, biography, bibliography, and public collections. Apart from the artist himself, it includes information of the Zao Wou Ki foundation, including its mission, administration, certificate, catalogue raisonné, and counterfeiting and forgery notice. On top of that, it includes information on ongoing and future exhibitions across the world. The chairperson of Zao Wou Ki foundation is Mrs. Françoise Marquet-Zao, 4th and the latest wife of Zao Wou Ki.

I have come across many information that other websites, journals, and scholarly articles captured, and what’s more was that I was able to locate painting easily as they were organized in a collective manner. For example, I had to visit many sources to locate specific paintings of Zao and some of them were hard to find. However, the website contained pretty much every painting that is needed for my research.

Thanks to this website, I learned that Zao Wou Ki not only painted with inks, oil, and water color, but also created prints and ceramics. My previous analysis of the artist’s work had been limited to paintings, but now I am able to analyze prints and ceramics.

[Service Diane 1979 – ceramic collections created by Zao Wou-Ki]

The additional analysis would either strengthen my views on progress of the artist, or create a new sense of direction in which the artist’s style and vies of art has changed. Regardless of which outcome, it would definitely be a valuable resources to my research.



Zao Wou-Ki Foundation. “Zao Wou-Ki Foundation”. Zao Wou-Ki Foundation, accessed May 5, 2023. https://www.zaowouki.org/en/the-foundation/ .

Xu Beihong Interesting Link

This article introduces an exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum called “Xu Beihong in Nanyang”. As Xu Beihong traveled throughout Southeast Asia and India between 1939 and 1941, his paintings still conveyed a subtle patriotic theme for supporting the people in his motherland. This article also included some comments from Kwok Kian Chow, the director of the Singapore Art Museum. Chow comments that Xu was not the first to formulate the idea of integrating Western practices and ideas into Chinese art, but he was one of the first to offer a solution and a direction. From this article, I understand that Xu Beihong had an immense influence on the development of Chinese painting in the 20th century because he championed an expansive realism that included Romanticism and Expressionism. These comments are particularly useful for me to understand Xu Beihong’s ideology in his art creations and how this built his prestige and influence within China. This article also provides information about the significance of some of the famous works in the background of the Anti-Japanese War, such as “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains” (1940) and “Put Down Your Whip” (1939).


Kolesnikov-jessop, Sonia. “Xu Beihong: A Chinese Master of Styles That Straddle East and West.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 11, 2008. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/arts/11iht-jessop.1.11901116.html.

Cai Guo-Qiang Interesting Link


The article “Cai Guo-Qiang: A Live Event” on the Hennessy website describes a performance art event by the artist in which he created a painting using gunpowder and fireworks. The event took place at the Hennessy Château in Cognac France in September, 2019. It was part of the Hennessy’s “Master of the Arts” program and was attended by a select group of guests.

The article provides an in-depth look into Cai Guo-Qiang’s creative process and the inspirations behind his work. Through interviews with the artist and his team, readers gain insights into the technical and artistic aspects of the performance, as well as the philosophical and cultural themes that underpin Cai’s practice. The article also includes stunning visuals of the event. These visuals showcase the power and beauty of Cai’s work in a unique setting. Through these visuals and the accompanying text, the article offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of Cai Guo-Qiang in which highlight the ways in which his art engages with broader cultural and political themes, while also showcasing his innovative and dynamic approach to art-making.

Sadie Interesting Link


In this link, we get an inside look into Zhang Hongtu’s apartment in Queens, New York. I really liked this article because it was extremely personal. His apartment has a studio, which is why he bought it. In this interview, Zhang takes the interviewer on a tour of his home. He stops to point out photographs of him and his wife in China before they immigrated, and discusses how his wife landscaped their backyard. His house has big wooden doors in a Japanese style, and he discusses how the air in his space feels fresh and calming. He has books of his own art on his coffee table.

I chose this article to talk about because it is a side of the artist that is not often shown. Simply imagining his home and workspace makes him feel more human, and separates him from his art. It also gives great context to his work as it is fun to imagine him painting and working in the spaces that are described.

Feng Zikai Interesting Link


This website is conducted by the University of California Press and discusses key highlights of Feng Zikai’s history. They also show some of his works that follow the timeline of his history. They go into depth about Feng Zikai’s historical context, and his frustration with his work. He had made many different types of work, and the website goes into depth about how these different types of work had made him feel and caused himself new challenges.


University of California Press. “War and Peace in the Cartoons of Feng Zikai.”
News release. 1982-2004. https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/

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