olitical Pop Art appeared in China in the 1980s, being a synthesis of Western pop art with the socialist realism of the Maoist era, which it still derides, questioning everything that has happened since then in the land of Confucius. The portraits (repetitive or not) of Mao made by Andy Warhol in the 1970s inspired the Chinese plastic artist Li Shan, whose “Mao” is strikingly reminiscent (though not at all an imitation!) of the works of the American plastic artist.
The First Political Pop Art
It is a work of 105 / 150.7 cm, in which a portrait of the Beloved Leader, printed and cut, was pasted over the background made with acrylic colors, after which a flower was added in his mouth, which makes the viewer think of Carmen, the main character in Bizet’s work… This portrait of Mao can be called anyway, only not apologetic.
We must not forget the painting “Great Criticism — Coca-Cola”, made by Wang Guangyi (The first Painting at the top of the article), in which Chinese workers represented in the most authentic socialist realist style, seemingly detached from a propaganda poster of 1950–1960, hold in their hands a red flag wrapped on a pen, under which you can see the well-known Coca-Cola logo.
The Artist who was almost killed for it
Also worth mentioning is the Chinese sculptor, filmmaker, musician, and architect Ai Weiwei (born on August 28, 1957 in Beijing) — whose childhood and adolescence was deeply affected by the excesses of the Chinese authorities during the Cultural Revolution. When he was at the age of one, his father, the well-known poet Ai Qing, was accused of “right-wing deviationism,” and was sent with his family to a “labor re-education camp,” where he was forced to work.
As a mature man, Ai Weiwei distinguished himself not only by his artistic achievements but also by his civic attitude, of open criticism of the abuses of his country’s government. Going to study in the United States, he was one of the first students to receive the approval of the Beijing government in this regard, Ai Weiwei approached the very avant-garde field of the so-called “conceptual art”, in which the raw material is objects of life. Every day found on the street or even thrown in the trash.
The achievements of this period brought him the appreciation of some notable artists, among whom we mention the avant-garde Andy Warhol. He befriended the poet Allen Ginsberg (who would later visit the artist’s father, the poet Ai Qing, in China) and discovered his talent as a photographer.
In 1993, due to the fact that his father became seriously ill, Ai Weiwei returned to China, where he wrote about artists of his generation (Black Cover Book in 1994, White Cover Book in 1995, and Gray Cover Book in 1997). In 1999, the artist moved to Caochangdi, northeast of Beijing, where he built an art studio from scratch — his first architectural achievement.
As a civic activist, Ai Weiwei quickly became uncomfortable, and the authorities responded accordingly: in August 2008, after testifying in favor of another civic activist, Tan Zuoren, he was severely beaten by police. As a result, Ai Weiwei suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, then was admitted to a hospital in Germany, where he underwent brain surgery. However, he returned home, where the persecution continued.
On April 3, 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing International Airport, where he was trying to board a plane bound for Hong Kong, on charges of “economic crimes”. The press under the Beijing government launched a campaign against Ai Weiwei, calling him a “plagiarist” and accusing him of “deviant behavior”. He was detained for 81 days (in a room where the light never went out) without being officially charged.
The United States and the European Union have staged vigorous protests against the Chinese government, and protests have taken place around the world demanding the immediate release of the artist. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the International Council of Museums organized petition campaigns, and Vaclav Havel sent an open letter to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao condemning the abusive arrest of Ai Weiwei, a letter signed by many intellectuals around the world.
As a result, he was released on June 21 of the same year, but in November the authorities launched a new investigation against him — this time for pornography! As a result of many such attentions, Ai Weiwei emigrated in 2015, settling in Germany. The artist, whose merits have been recognized by awarding many prestigious awards, is one of the promoters of excessive, an avant-garde artistic current that denounces the excesses of contemporary capitalist society and consumerism.