Themed “The Archive”, the 5th Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) examines the role and function of photography as a repository of individual and collective memories. In “Witness: The Archive of Cultural Revolution”, a photography exhibition presented as part of the festival, socio-political upheavals in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 were recorded through the unflinching lenses of Li Zhensheng, then a photojournalist of the Heilongjiang Daily.
Led by the conviction that the truth must be revealed to the masses in order for history not to repeat itself, the intrepid photographer risked his life hiding away negatives that offered an unabashed account of China’s political situation under the rule of Mao Zedong. This exhibition showcases, for the first time in Southeast Asia, over 80 compelling images shedding light on the tumultuous event, interspersed with intimate documentations of Li’s life as a young Chinese grappling with times of great flux and uncertainty.
Biography of Li Zhensheng:
As a young photojournalist at the Heilongjiang Daily, Li Zhensheng (b. September 22, 1940, Dalian) found himself at the forefront of documenting the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the spring of 1966. Unwilling to end up as a cog in the propaganda machinery, he founded his own rebel group by donning the armband of the Red Guards at the newspaper. He was hence able to gain unobstructed access to photograph happenings of the revolution. Despite undergoing countless trials and tribulations – being sentenced to hard labour at the countryside at the height of the socio-political upheaval for one, the tenacious lensman risked his life preserving his photographic records, eventually delivering them to a press images office in New York three decades later. After Mao’s death in 1976, Li became a professor at a university in Beijing in 1982. He is presently engaged in research and lectures on the Cultural Revolution to raise awareness of this tumultuous period in Chinese history.