In 1930s Shanghai the writer Lu Xun asked artists to create woodblock prints that showed the hardship of life. Woodblocks had been developed in China centuries before, but it was the more recent work of Kathe Kollwitz that inspired the return to the form.
After the revolution Mao could see the value of this form of art as propaganda. Alison Carroll explains that the mass produced prints even helped to make Chinese people literate.
After the Cultural Revolution the prints become bigger and simplified. The strong graphic political style which developed was influential around the world, particularly in the 1970s, and Carroll visits Australian printmaker Ann Newmarch to discuss how this Chinese art practice spread into Australasia and influenced Newmarch’s work.
By the end of the twentieth century the graphic style of the prints had evolved into ironic canvas works that critiqued the regime, but were no longer created for mass consumption.
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Interviewees in this episode
Ann Newmarch – Australia
Born in 1945, in Adelaide, where she still lives, Ann Newmarch quickly became one of the leading young artists emerging in the politically-active 1970s in Australia, co-founding the Progressive Art Movement in 1974 and being a founder member of the Women’s Art Movement in Adelaide in 1976. Inspired by writings and actions of leftist political movements internationally, Newmarch worked with groups on subjects of social and political issues, with her work being widely seen on walls and in printed posters. In 1986 she was an early Australian artist to travel to China to undertake joint projects there.
Questions raised in this episode
Scroll down to see questions and resources
Should art be for art’s sake or serve another agenda? Does the historical context affect this?
During the Cultural Revolution gesture moved from the ballet to posters. Can you think of other contemporary examples where gesture or stance has moved from one art form to another?
Chinese propaganda posters
What is the aim of art? Is it as Newmarch claims, to provide hope for humankind?
Australian political poster art
Do artists have a responsibility to contribute? If so, to what?