Theater, Art, and the Cultural Revolution: A Presentation featuring Zheng Shengtian and Chen Xiaomei
Wang Liping, The New Ensembles from the Cultural and Art Club, 1975. Courtesy of Chen Xiaomei and The People’s Art Press.
March 29, 2017
Video documentation by Asia Art Archive in America
Artist, Curator, and Managing Editor of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Zheng Shengtian, returned to China Institute to continue his conversation with Jane DeBevoise, Chair of the Board of Directors, Asia Art Archive, on his experience as an artist and young teacher in the Oil Painting Department at Zhejiang Academy of Art in Hangzhou (now China Academy of Art) during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Their conversation will focus on Zheng’s personal experience at that turbulent time, as well as the broader consequences of the Cultural Revolution on art in China. The discussion was preceded by a presentation by Chen Xiaomei, Professor of Chinese Literature at University of California, Davis. Chen’s presentation traced the history of theater and art of the Cultural Revolution from the end of imperial China through the Maoist period (1949 to 1976) to demonstrate how socialist arts inherited aspects of both traditional and modern culture, transforming them into a new culture that affected everyday life and personal experience. This presentation will include images of revolutionary posters, theater, and film.
Zheng Shengtian was born in China and graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. For more than thirty years, he worked at his alma mater as Professor and Chair of the Oil Painting Department. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota and at San Diego State University in the 1980s. Zheng has immigrated to Canada since 1990. In 1993 he was elected as the Chairman of Chinese Canadian Artists Federation in Vancouver. From 1996 to 2000, he was the Secretary of the Annie Wong Art Foundation and Director of Art Beatus Gallery. In 2002 he co-founded Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, the first English language magazine on contemporary Chinese art and has been the Managing Editor since then. He was a founding member and Board Director of Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art (Centre A) from 1999 to 2011. He is also a Trustee of Asia Art Archive in North America since 2009 and Vancouver Art Gallery from 2011 to 2015. In 2015 he was appointed as the Adjunct Director of Institute for Asian Art at Vancouver Art Gallery. As an independent curator, he has organized and curated numerous exhibitions including Jiangnan – Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art Exhibitions, Shanghai Modern, the 2004 Shanghai Biennale, China Trade, Reincarnation, and Art and China’s Revolution. He has been the Senior Curator for Asia of Vancouver Biennale since 2009 and won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his curatorial work. Zheng is a frequent contributor to periodicals and catalogues of contemporary Chinese and Asian art. He has lectured widely at institutions including Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Tate Modern, Getty Museum, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, among others. As an artist, his work has been showing in China, United States and Canada since 1960s and was a participant artist at the 5th Moscow Biennale in 2011. Zheng received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver in 2013.
Chen Xiaomei was born in Beijing and, like many in her generation, went to the Northeast Wilderness to work on an army farm from age fifteen to eighteen during the Cultural Revolution. During her formative years in rural China, she worked in the field, performed theatrical works for the farmers and served as a local journalist to report their “good deeds and events.” She became a “worker-peasant-soldier college student” in 1973, majoring in English at Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages. She received a master’s degree in English and American Literature from Brigham Young University in 1984 and a doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1989. Upon graduation, she taught Chinese literature and theater at Ohio State University and is now Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian languages and Cultures at University of California Davis. She is the author of several influential books such as Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (Oxford University Press, 1995), Acting the Right Part: Political Theater and Popular Drama in Contemporary China (University of Hawai’i Press, 2002), and her most recent book, Staging Chinese Revolution: Theater, Film, and the Afterlives of Propaganda (Columbia University Press, 2016). Her edited book titled Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Drama (Columbia University Press, 2010; abridged edition, 2013) has become a standard textbook, having provided “the largest single collection of plays of the 20th century beginning from the May Fourth era in 1919.”
Jane DeBevoise is Chair of the Board of Directors, Asia Art Archive, in Hong Kong and New York. Prior to moving to Hong Kong in 2002, Ms. DeBevoise was deputy director of the Guggenheim Museum, responsible for museum operations and exhibitions globally. She joined the museum in 1996 as project director of China: 5000 Years (1998), a large-scale exhibition of traditional and modern Chinese art at the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao. Her recent book Between State and Market: Chinese Contemporary Art in the Post-Mao Era was published in 2014 by Brill.
Co-presented by China Institute and Asia Art Archive in America.