The limitations of China’s Great Firewall and censorship make this a particularly difficult and daring feat for any creatively cutting-edge brain. What’s more, these political statements don’t always go to “plan” or get received well. Chinese artists allow their imaginations run wild to create political art, despite all. Time to take a closer look at the fascinating movement that is art censorship and political underground art in the East.
When it comes to all things Contempo China Art, we find ourselves in obscure territory and are in need of a sensible sage –preferably packing a Huawei Mate X torch. Ergo…
Who better to turn to in these most dire of socio-economic and subsequently vastly visionary creative times than British Misha Maruma, founder of Chinese contemporary art consultancy and art blog CNCREATE. And with a little help of our friends…
China Under The Radar explores the greatness of contemporary Chinese creation and just how politically censitive the political motif remains in 2019.
The Business That Is China Art
US $4.8 billion in 2016. These numbers comprise 38 percent of the global art market — the U.S. covers 28 percent, in comparison. Not too shabby a business to dabble in, we’d say.
CNCREATE in the past three years has seen Maruma and company move from the digital into the physical realm. The artistic organ is currently building up a consultancy to work with contemporary galleries in China, including French, Canadian and Singaporean owned art spaces. The aim is to connect these galleries with contemporary art venues across London and take things to the next level by developing different projects. The #现代艺术# (xiàndài yìshù| Chinese for “contemporary/ modern art”) squad also works closely with a number of art collectors to help guide these through the boom that is China’s Art Business.
“China buzzes with a sense that art projects, from designing logos to bespoke coffee bar murals, is something that can be done on the cheap. There’s always someone willing to do this just to get their name out there. Well, as we always say… You can’t pay the rent with exposure, now can you?” Maruma declares.
The Coming Out Of Chinese Creativity
The Middle Kingdom has long carried the stigma of being King of Copy-Paste Land. Nowadays, the nation is starting to lead the global pack in certain areas, such as technology. This newfound “leadership” is probably one of the reasons why new media art ( 新媒体艺术 in Chinese) — counting a varied set of categories such as digital art and interactive art technologies among its offspring — is rapidly gaining popularity in China. When it comes to using technology in art, Chinese artists find themselves in pole position. And innovative, they are.
“I think before [the days of tech headship], the professional pursuit of art wasn’t considered to be a ‘real’ career in China. Much like sports,” Maruma elaborates, “That perception is now changing and this altered awareness gives Chinese youngsters chance to express both themselves and their culture. The opposite of what an artist is expected to do from a western perspective.”
Art and design coming in from 21st Century China reflect the final stages of the society’s development, i.e. a coming out of creativity.
All Things Art — Politically Censitive?
China’s censorship strays beyond the (social) media world and flows right through into the art scene. Chinese artists face the issue of censorship when creating work with political, controversial messages. China’s great firewall can be a hurdle in the road for artists and designers wanting to promote their products. The wall is rising with a lot of people wondering, how high will it go?
Art censorship is a big problem in China, it’s one way the government can control public opinion. Art is often a reflection of current affairs, society, culture, but in China, that kind of stuff is unwanted. Now it’s unlikely that a landscape painting of trees blowing in the wind would be censored, however, add some thick grey smog and the painting becomes a problem; becoming substantially political. Here in the East, free speech is limited in order to create a more ‘idealised’ vision of things.
Ai Weiwei is one of many artists who have been censored due to political statements he’s made. Born in 1957, he resides and works in Beijing. He helped to create the much-admired Bird’s Nest stadium from the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Over the years of his work, he’s been arrested, exiled and censored and it seems that it’s not over just yet. In August 2018, he Instagrammed a snap of his Beijing studio being demolished, captioning the pic “Farewell”.
Though it’s not clear if the destruction was aimed specifically and directly at Weiwei, Chinese authorities don’t seem very happy with the likes of these characters.
When Art Meets The Mao Motif
What’s more, a fresh crop of Chinese artists is now responding to significant events, namely, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Mao Zedong inspired sculptures, paintings and drawings are appearing and despite censorship in the middle kingdom, those further afield can appreciate the works.
NYC-based Liao Yibai is a Chinese sculptor who specialises in giant silver stainless steel pop-art sculpture. Liao was born in a missile factory during the war and uses his tough-upbringing to inspire his work. His steel sculpture “Top Secret Hamburger” comments upon China and America’s long history and complex, fueling his obsession with what he calls “the slow and delicious enlightenment of western culture.”
Mao motifs have become extremely common in pieces by Liao, Zeng Fanzhi, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo and Yue Mingjun, among others. Nonetheless, anyone born after 1979, and most certainly after 1990, is more inclined to follow some pop culture features. Especially those poppy doppy trends coming in from Japan and South Korea.
It seems some artists are happy to live with the repercussions of their work, despite its potential to unnerve the government.
We were curious about Maruma’s opinion on such socio-politico matter. When asked if he feels the effects of censorship in Chinese art industry Maruma replied, “I think in China artists try not to be overtly political anymore. Maybe the generation after the death of Mao in the 1980s were the last of the political artists in China.” He continued:
“Hopefully, in the next five to 10 years more young Chinese artists will be represented outside China. I think they have something different to add to the global artistic conversation.”
China’s Underground Graffiti Culture
At China Under The Radar, we heart Chinese graffiti and thus found ourselves morally obliged to include a snippet on that brooding subculture. Despite the art form officially coined “vulgar vandalism” by Zhongnanhai, China’s first tier urban underground has embraced it.
China in 2019 boasts a massive and ever-evolving underground graffiti culture. This phenomenon is a rather unbelievable one, considering that if you put a poster on a public Chinese wall it will be taken down in minutes.
As Maruma puts it, “China Street Art is huge and there are simply too many people involved to mention. Big name foreign street artists receive invitations to visit China all the time, think Parisian-based Seth. In the next five years, we will see street artists coming out of China who will prove to possess global appeal.”
Just envision the greatness of creation and so it shall be.