China and Inner Asia
In recent years, scholars of Maoist China have increasingly explored the use of images, displays, and other visual materials and how they were deployed for political ends. What remains largely absent from these studies are, paradoxically, the visual and aesthetic qualities of the images and media in question, their agency and that of their creators, and thus the possibility that they might offer ambiguous and multilayered readings. Art historians on the other hand, who are trained to analyze and interpret images, have shown more interest in art-specific discourses and how individual artists responded to given tasks or settings on a formal or iconographical level. Indeed, the assumption that images produced in Maoist China possessed a lot of political, but very little artistic value might be one reason why a comparatively small number of art-historical studies have been written on Chinese art from the period between 1949 and 1979.
In our roundtable, we will discuss methodological issues and case studies which allow us to seek new perspectives on the image production of that period as well as the relation between art, propaganda, and visual culture in a broader sense. Cai Tao will investigate how artists employed their pictorial intelligence in creating the visual language of the socialist state, and their agency in shaping its ideological expressions. Claire Roberts will consider the early work of Huang Xinbo and Ye Qianyu, with the aim of expanding and complicating our understanding of their art and that of Maoist China. Christine Ho will focus on the impressionism debates of 1956/57 in order to probe into the heterogeneity of visual sources in creating Maoist visual culture. Yi Gu will explore how to recontextualize the writing on art in Maoist China in the global history of socialist art. Julia F. Andrews will discuss how, with the establishment of art history as a discipline, recategorizing premodern artworks rendered them politically acceptable subjects, and how this affects current art historical practice. Taking short impulse presentations on these questions as starting points, we will discuss their relevance and methodological implications for our practice as art historians.