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A historical perspective

This chapter outlines the longue durée of Chinese political art from the 1940s onwards. Tracing the shift in China from realism to socialist realism and then to socially engaged avant-garde art, it argues that beneath such transformations was a redefinition of art and its epistemological relation to national identity and societal change. Interrogating paradigmatic shifts of political discourse and artistic praxis, Yan Geng’s contribution uncovers the roots of contemporary Chinese art and explains the complex relationships that exist between the cultural production of the revolution and the art of post-Maoist China.

in Art, Global Maoism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution
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The art and politics of West German Maoism

Lauren Graber and Daniel Spaulding’s joint contribution, ‘The Red Flag: the art and politics of West German Maoism’, maps artistic Maoism in West Germany from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, tying it to both the student movement and the extra-parliamentary opposition. Looking at a broad sample of artists, the authors demonstrate how the image of Mao and the politics for which it stood became contested terrain where the complex dialectic of Pop art and revolution was played out in perhaps its most spectacular form.

in Art, Global Maoism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Postmodernism is usually framed as a Western movement, with theoretical and philosophical roots in Europe. Victoria H. F. Scott’s chapter links artistic postmodernism to the influence of Maoism in the West, specifically through the dissemination and absorption of the content and form of Maoist propaganda. Taking into consideration the broad significance of Mao for art and culture in the West in the second half of the twentieth century, the chapter comes to terms with the material effects of a global propaganda movement which, combined with the remains of a personality cult, currently transcends the traditional political categories of the Left and the Right.

in Art, Global Maoism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution
Feminist aesthetics and ‘The Red Room for Vietnam’

Elodie Antoine explores the inability of Maoist artists in France to supersede the standard gender biases that were prevalent in the 1960s. While the artists connected to the Salon of Young Painting posed strong challenges to the bourgeois nature of art production, they could not escape the reproduction of masculine power structures, characteristic of both the East and the West at this time.

in Art, Global Maoism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution
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Vision, visibility and power in colonial India

Beyond its simple valorisation as a symbol of knowledge and progress in post-Enlightenment narratives, light was central to the visual politics and imaginative geographies of empire. Empires of Light describes how imperial designations of ‘cities of light’ and ‘hearts of darkness’ were consonant with the dynamic material culture of light in the nineteenth-century industrialisation of light (in homes, streets, theatres, etc.) and its instrumentalisation through industries of representation. Empires of Light studies the material effects of light as power through the drama of imperial vision and its engagement with colonial India. It evaluates responses by the celebrated Indian painter Ravi Varma (1848–1906) to claim the centrality of light in imperial technologies of vision, not merely as an ideological effect but as a material presence that produces spaces and inscribes bodies.

The naked and the clothed

A discourse on veiling and unveiling was implicated in changing notions of the body in nineteenth century India, prominent amongst which was the place of the female nude. Introduced by European artists and taught at the British-run academic art schools in India, the nude was also displayed in the houses and palaces of the elite as a symbol of good taste. This chapter argues that this idea of the nude – as the body shorn of all clothing – was premised upon Enlightenment ideas of the ‘naked truth’ that assumed the naked body as ‘natural’ and prior to representation. In the Indian context, however, as many authors have noted, it was the adorned body that was regarded as auspicious. This chapter evaluates how the female body becomes the site of an inordinate erotic investment in nineteenth-century Indian pictorial practice, premised upon exactly such a mechanism of veiling and unveiling, providing us with some historical perspective in recent debates on nudity in Indian painting.

in Empires of light
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The veil as technology of illumination

This chapter examines the emergence of the Indian landscape into the visibility of the Western world, drawing upon the iconography of unveiling as consonant with the trope of ‘discovery’. In the context of the civilising mission of empire, such acts of unveiling served as technologies of illumination, bringing light into benighted lands. The images examined foreground not only epistemological issues where visibility implies a transcendence of the darkness of Oriental mystique but are equally invested in aestheticising landscapes, so that exotic lands emerge as sites of visual pleasure. The ritual of unveiling dramatises the act of seeing, holding out the promise of an unmediated vision and the revelation of buried secrets and hidden pleasures.

in Empires of light
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The subaltern in the shadows

Taking a small portrait by Ravi Varma of a scholar reading in the glow of a lamp as a servant waits upon him in the background shadows, this chapter evaluates the emergence of the elitist figure of the artist against the backdrop of the subaltern craftsman. The differential inscription of light marks their place within the new order of visibility – the named artist whose face glows in the lamp and the anonymous craftsman marked by his labour. Keeping in mind recent art-historical scholarship that has tended to view the figure of the artist as the paradigmatic modern subject, this chapter tracks the developments in portraiture and the assertion of individualism, arguing that the representation of the elite artist allowed for a way to transition from the dominant anthropological model of portraiture popular in nineteenth-century India to the fiction of the assured subjectivity of later portraits.

in Empires of light
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The introduction examines the empire of light formulated at the intersection of industrial and imperial visual technologies during the era of the industrialisation of light. It argues that this had a profound impact on public life and practices of seeing, instituting new regimes of visibility. It asks how this was a legacy of Enlightenment ideas of light and evaluates its reception and negotiation by Indian artists.

in Empires of light
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in Empires of light