Thursday, May 31, 2007

A new dawn in posters

by Stella Moutafis

A NEW DAWN came to the Chinese people with the foundation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. In the words of Mao Zedong, the people had “stood up” and achieved their independence.
There was - of course - much to be done in building the new socialist state. Artists at that time had work to do in educating and inspiring the working people. At a time of widespread illiteracy in China, the political poster was highly suitable in communicating the aims and ambitions of the people’s government.
From originals in paint or woodcuts these posters were mass-produced and distributed all over the country. The artists would be amazed that these “vintage posters” are still in existence. Their political posters were designed for instant impact and they had not been intended for posterity. But they are not only still around – they’re framed and sought-after by the patrons of up-market art galleries...such as those here in capitalist Britain!
The Chambers Gallery, near the Barbican in central London is currently showing an exhibition of Chinese political posters from the 1950s -70s. Launched in 2004, this gallery specialises in East European and revolutionary art. This exhibition is on show till 15th June and other exhibitions of interest are planned.
The 100 posters on display are described in the catalogue as being not just a collection of propaganda art from a bygone era – but representing a part of history.
The display is certainly impressive. Surprisingly well preserved; they are colourful and bold in style. Composed so as to convey a clear message to a wide audience, the mood is one of determination and optimism in facing the future. Subjects focused on are Mao Zedong and representations of the working people along with resolute opposition to attacks from the imperialist states.
We are given a window on Chinese history over the years. With events such as the 1950-53 Korean War covered and a succession of campaigns in which posters were used to broadcast exhortations to the people on the part of the people’s government.
We can see the enthusiasm for The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, and glimpse part of the turmoil during the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 and continued for another ten years.
All the posters on display are for sale – with price-tags of £300 upwards! So any reader who thinks the may have some Chinese or Soviet posters somewhere at home would be well advised to look them out — especially if in need of a bob or two...and I know of at least one Chinese poster at Party Centre!

The Chambers Gallery is located in the City of London, minutes from the Barbican Station, and is housed in a renovated art deco building at 23 Long Lane, London EC1A 9HL . It is open Monday to Friday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm and admission is free.