Hanart TZ Gallery presents Forever Red: The Twelve Months of the Republic, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Liu Dahong, opening on 10 June 2016.
Liu Dahong’s imaginative paintings draw on both Chinese folkloric vernacular and classic Western technique to articulate his individual memories and imagination as he bears witness to and evaluates the history of China’s modern era, with the Cultural Revolution as his nexus. These new works are in effect Liu’s response to, and marking of, the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Foreword in red – Curatorial Statement
Political titans striding across tumultuous eras are not always aware of their role in the larger historical picture. Sun Yat-sen famously claimed that ‘the revolution is yet incomplete’, but this statement is disputable. One may speak of a ‘conclusion’ to the process of dynastic change expressed in China’s traditional concept of ge ming (the same two characters later used to translate the European word ‘revolution’), which means a ‘revolving’ that seeks a fresh mandate from Heaven; but in European terms ‘revolution’ is a historical ‘project’ founded on the precept of a linear history. In principle there is no historical end point for ‘revolution’. Revolution is not about a mandate of Heaven: rather, it endeavours to put the past in suspense, and escape from history, so as to become its own pristine historical progenitor.
For decades Liu Dahong has been pondering the ‘primordial history’ of Mao Zedong’s ge ming, casting his gaze across vistas past and present. With the wit and perceptiveness of a fantasist and satirist, he lets loose his imagination in uncharted space-time. Liu treats the 28 years of Mao’s reign as the pre-modern scholar would have treated the 242 years of imperial reign recorded in Confucius’ classic Spring and Autumn Annals. Both histories are their own form of ‘primordial history’, as each represents the complete paradigm of human politics, and therefore becomes the ultimate reference for the legitimacy of the Chinese world of its time. Even today, in the 67th Year of the People’s Republic, the ‘primordial history’ of Mao’s reign continues to be revisited and revered as the locus of modern history. However, what is demanded of us mortals today is not ‘completing’ the revolution, but unremitting hermeneutics and critical appraisal. Mao’s era was both dynastic ge ming and ‘revolution’, and hurtling along this dual trajectory, it cannot settle down comfortably within a linear historical narrative. Thus, as Liu Dahong understands, it must by necessity be elevated into a kind of atemporal classic, a ‘Red Annals’, like the one charted here in Liu’s paintings and narratives.
To construct the ‘primordial history’ of Mao’s era by means of folklore and ballad promises exhilarating possibilities; a fertile imagination can discover mythological drama in every major political struggle and the most subtle court intrigue. Historical morality is beside the point in this type of ‘history writing’. What is important about this kind of personal effort is the invention of a genealogy that seeks to mend the broken bridge to China’s civilizational past. The world that dares to ask ‘its planets to change a new heaven’ (from a poem by Mao) would require an equally daring literary imagination to grasp the truth of its epical transformation. Court intrigues and the personal habits of political titans can be as important as ideological politics and China’s obfuscating political-literary tradition; and the true meaning of history can be hidden between the cracks of minute daily news entries. The characteristics of power struggle during this era were determined by the personalities of its players, which decisively set the terms of politics for China’s new age. Liu Dahong has constructed episodes of mythological drama that transcend moral tales of politics by engaging the minutiae of its struggles, to deliver its titans up to the pantheon of the gods, so that they become as immortal as forces of nature. The unfinished ‘revolution’ of Sun Yat-sen was like a lost soul biding its time amidst the storms of history, waiting for Mao’s revolution to complete its ‘primordial history’. In time it is in the ballad of folk memory that this ‘primordial history’ finds its abode.
“Forever Red: The Twelve Months of the Republic” – Artist’s Statement
The Great Leader Mao Zedong instructed us that ‘China ought to make a greater contribution to humanity’.
From my perspective, China’s greatest contribution to humanity over the last century was the Great Cultural Revolution, and the simultaneous emergence of a Mao Zedong. No wonder that in the book Chinese Art & Culture, edited by Prof. Richard Ellis Vinograd of Stanford University, the final chapter on ‘The Twentieth Century’ opens with an illustration of my Mao painting Four Seasons: Spring (1991). Along with the historical decade of the Cultural Revolution, are the hundred years that span the history of modern China (from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s Hong Xiquan to the Republic of China’s Sun Yat-sen) and the history of the Chinese Communist Party. This entire historical span has been my artistic focus, a wellspring of stimulation, and a motherlode of creative inspiration. Over the past thirty years. I have created a number of works that trace this Red trajectory, including A Tale of Two Cities (1998), Sacrificial Altar (2000), Sixteen National Congresses of the CPC (2003), and Red Calendar – Twenty-four Solar Terms (2005). My new series of paintings in this exhibition, completed between 2010-2015, are an even more extreme atmospheric integration of these ‘three histories’ (the history of the Cultural Revolution, the history of the Chinese Communist Party and the history of modern China). These works represent the ‘Chinese Dream’ that I have most sought to capture, and they are also the ultimate expression of my own brand of ‘revolutionary spirit’ as a person who himself grew up alongside the Cultural Revolution. On Planet Earth people are confused and disoriented by a weird sense of time lag occurring in 2016 (the 67th year of the People’s Republic of China), as we once again revisit the spiritual atom bomb set off by the ‘May 16 Notification’ of 1966 (the 17th year of the People’s Republic). Clearly the most urgent task is to find a way to ultimately transform poisonous weeds into fertiliser. This is the goal I’ve been working towards so relentlessly, and it is the main reason I continue to paint, to write and to exhibit.