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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
- Social change and art, Wang Qingsong’s way – Artnet video interview – May 2014 – in a video produced by Artnet, Wang Qingsong shares his personal, professional and conceptual motivations behind his photography and video works
- Chinese artists at Armory Focus 2014: Alexandre Errera’s watch list – March 2014 – Alexandre Errera, Founder and CEO of online platform Artshare.com, reveals to Art Radar his five favourite artists and artworks from the Armory Focus: China section at the Armory Show 2014 in New York
- China’s quiet cultural revolution: A guide to 4 art districts – September 2013 – as China’s art scene continues to grow, famous international architects build new contemporary art centres across the country
- “China China”: Artists of the Cultural Revolution and beyond – picture feast – May 2013 – PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv, Ukraine, hosts the exhibition “China China” from 18 May to 6 October 2013, which turns the global lens on contemporary Chinese artists
- A cultural revolution: UCCA’s “ON | OFF” young China artists exhibition – picture feast – March 2013 – “On | Off: China’s Young Artists in Theory and Practice” will run from 13 January to 14 April 2013 at Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA)
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary art shows in Hong Kong