ill. 5.44 (set: 5.42)
Zhang Hongtu (1943-) 张宏图
internet file, colour original source: Oil, acrylic, ink and soy sauce on canvas board, 9 panels, 93 x 75 inch total (30 x 24 inch each)
Zhang Hongtu, Unity and Discord, 1998 (DACHS 2008 Zhang Hongtu http://momao.com/), Heidelberg catalogue entry
Cultural Revolution gesture, Mao Zedong, Mao portrait, Chinese avantgarde, repetition, Red Guards, students, Mao memories, contemporary China
Zhang Hongtu: Unity and Discord
Another conceptual piece by Zhang Hongtu, his Unity and Discord of 1998, which combines many of the methods used by Chinese artists to deal with repetitions of Mao as described above, may provide further clues. When read against the countertext of Cultural Revolution MaoArt, this must appear as a piece of subversion and criticism. Mao is here repeated 9 times, in different versions of one standard pose, with the Red Guard bandage around his arm, waving benevolently to the crowds. Yet this Mao-pattern is repainted in a number of different styles from modernist art (all of which citicized during the Cultural Revolution), so, for example Cubism, Expressionism and Pop Art. His portrait is turned upside down, it is changed into a comic strip image, it is shown as a silhouette or it is completely whitened out. Perhaps most viciously, the image is substituted in one frame by the dictionary entry for the character "Mao" ? in a Chinese-English dictionary which can be read in various rather subversive ways: Mao means "mildew," Mao means "semi-finished," Mao is the name for a very small denomination of Chinese paper money, Mao is to "depreciate in value," and "to lose one's temper."
Is Mao really all of that? What is the effect of such alternative readings? Do these meanings have anything to do with Mao, the man? What is the implied audience of a piece such as this to think? Is this blasphemy? It probably is. But at the same time, it is also testimony to the continued influence and importance of repetitions and reproductions of Mao in contemporary China.