Mo Yi: Pixelated political imagery in Hong Kong – in pictures

A Hong Kong gallery hosts Mo Yi’s provocative new solo exhibition.

Contemporary by Angela Li, a Hong Kong gallery dedicated to showing avant-garde artists, launched Mo Yi’s latest solo exhibition on 14 May 2014. The provocative show, running until 14 June 2014, explores China’s political history through historical imagery.

Mo Yi, '450 Cultural Revolution', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 120 x 88cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘450 Cultural Revolution’, 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 120 x 88 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Entitled “Illusory Memories”, the exhibition at Contemporary by Angela Li comprises of an installation series that is a continuation and expansion of Mo Yi’s photographic works. The installations use coloured tiles, pixelated images and propaganda material to explore China’s political history.

Step back: China’s Cultural Revolution

Mo Yi explores materials left behind from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. For this exhibition, the Tibetan-born artist was inspired by the recent movement of singing “red songs”, whereby Chinese authorities encouraged the country’s citizens to join in revolutionary-style songs.

Mo Yi, 'August 18, 1966', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 102 x 87cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘August 18, 1966’, 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 102 x 87 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

The resulting installations showcase what appear to be merely coloured tiles when viewed up-close. When gallery visitors step back, however, distinctive imagery from China’s political history becomes apparent. These include Deng Xiaoping sitting on a sofa, Mao Zedong swimming, waving to the crowds or inspecting the guards, Luo Feng’s portrait and other propaganda images from the Cultural Revolution period.

Mo Yi, 'With You in Charge I am at Ease', 2011-2013, 391 coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 83 x 112cm. Image courtesy the artist and contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘With You in Charge I am at Ease’, 2011-2013, 391 coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 83 x 112 cm. Image courtesy the artist and contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

All the coloured squares in “Illusory Memories” have been made with specially ordered ceramic tiles, mimicking the material which was commonly used for political propaganda posters. Each tile features short phrases or quotes which complement the imagery, for instance, Mao’s famous saying: “With you in charge, I am at ease.”

Mo Yi, 'Dearest Comrade in Arms', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 107 x 87cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘Dearest Comrade-in-Arms’, 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 107 x 87 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi has also included his own satirical versions of these proverbs, including the congratulatory message to Mao which all students had to chant before each class when the artist was in primary school. This is depicted in Dearest Comrade-in-Arms, a work that shows Mao and the military leader Lin Biao standing together. The message reads:

Let us wish eternal life for our most revered Chairman Mao, the reddest red sun in the hearts of the people of the world, the great mentor, the great leader, the great commander-in-chief and the great helmsman. Let us wish perpetual health for our most revered Vice-Commander Lin, Mao’s dearest comrade-in-arms.

Mo Yi, 'Clapping', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 136 x 88cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘Clapping’, 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 136 x 88 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Red is for persecution and survival

On many of the works, red threads overlap and creep out in between the tiles, depicting red grass which symbolises the vitality of the people surviving through difficult situations. The entire series is bright and colourful, with tendencies towards pop art, but portraying often bleak and complex stories.

Mo Yi, 'Waving', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 82 x 78cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘Waving’, 2011-2013, 304 coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 82 x 78 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

In the work Waving, a striking, red image of Mao can be made out as he reviews the millions of Red Guards at Tiananmen Square. Written on the tiles are the names of all those who were killed and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.

Mo Yi, 'The World is Yours', 2011-2013, 304 coloured ceramic blocks, wood, text, red thread, 80 x 95cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘The World is Yours’, 2011-2013, 304 coloured ceramic blocks, wood, text, red thread, 80 x 95 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

More about the artist

Mo Yi (b. 1958, Tibet) has been a provocative and radical artist throughout his career and early life. In the 1990s, he staged street performances in his hometown of Tianjin. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, he wore a costume in protest and was jailed for several days.

Mo Yi, 'Deng Xiaoping', 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 87 x 73cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘Deng Xiaoping’, 2011-2013, coloured ceramic tiles, wood, thread, 87 x 73 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi went on to have a major international career, with his photographic works showcased at key exhibitions including the Guangzhou International Photography Biennial, the Guangzhou Triennial and the Daegu Photo Biennale. His thought-provoking images have also been included in the collections of the Guangdong Art Museum and the Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing.

Mo Yi, 'Break his Dog's Head', 2011-2013, 234 coloured ceramic blocks, wood, text, red thread, 87 x 63cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi, ‘Break his Dog’s Head’, 2011-2013, 234 coloured ceramic blocks, wood, text, red thread, 87 x 63cm. Image courtesy the artist and Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong.

Mo Yi received the Gold Prize at the Pingyao International Photography Festival in 2008, and the Silver Prize at the Lianzhou International Photography Festival in 2006. He currently lives and works in Beijing.

Clare Wiley

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Related Topics: ceramics, mosaic art, photography, thread art, wood art, Chinese artists, Cultural Revolution, art about memory, political art, events in Hong Kong, picture feasts, Tibetan artists

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