Images of God at Anyuan: An Anthropological Analysis of Art
By Thiago Braga
Published online: 1 February 2017
Abstract: During the Cultural Revolution, the image of Mao Zedong ascended to that of a God, as his cult of personality influenced many aspects of Chinese society and culture. Chinese art took an aesthetic of veneration towards Mao, being crystallised in Liu Chunhua’s “Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan”. The image was deemed an ideal model for veneration, circulating widely during the apex of the Cultural Revolution. In the aftermath of the event however, artists have gone back to the original painting looking for inspiration to question Mao’s image and figure. Inspired by Andrew Gells Anthropological Art Theory, this paper suggests that a full understanding of art can only be achieved through a deeper appreciation of the cultural processes that lead to its creation and receptions. In conducting an ethnography of the painting, I seek to propose more nuanced understandings of how Chinese society has negotiated the figure of Mao’s image as a God-like figure throughout contemporary history. Through our analysis, we discuss how Mao’s influence during the Cultural Revolution attributed him with God-like characteristics that led to his veneration, something that persists to this day. Simultaneously, however, the Chinese artistic community – and by extension, broader society – has also begun to question Mao’s original ideals and his position within Chinese culture.
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The image of Mao resonates in the minds of the Chinese as part of a deep rooted cultural narrative which has shaped contemporary China as we know it today. But how do images convey meaning relative to their form across time and indeed space? Braga conducts an anthropological analysis into one of the most salient paintings of Mao in his journey to Anyuan in this February 2017 research paper.
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© Middle Kingdom Review Journal 2017