This exhibition reveals the very distinct journey Chinese printmaking has made from the 1930s to today. From the politicised voice of the collective mass (we) during socially and politically turbulent times, to the rediscovery and expression of the self (me) in the post-cultural revolution era, the exhibition provides an intriguing insight into Chinese cultural history.
Comprising 70 prints by 40 artists, the exhibition is drawn from the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney University and is on display in the Asian galleries from 21 October 2006 to 21 January 2007
In the early 20th century, the impulse toward modernity in art brought into China compelling aspects of European, Japanese and Soviet techniques and styles of prints-making. Although an important thrust of the new woodcut movement was self-expression, this soon gave way to the turmoil of foreign invasion and civil war. Folk connections and popular appeal made the prints the ideal low-cost medium for communicating social concerns to a broad audience.
During the turbulent period of the Cultural Revolution in 1960s and 70s, prints became a propaganda instrument, serving to transmit government dogma. In nearly half a century, Chinese prints had served politics and the masses, which voiced only a "we" approach, with self-recognition and individual creativity being forcibly oppressed.
When China was reopened in early 1980s, an art form so closely connected to a political legacy had to struggle to find a new identity, balancing a rich tradition with the sudden influx of Western influence. Gradually freed from countless political bonds Chinese artists turned to the rediscovery of the outward universe, and the notion of individuality. They tackled a wide range of subject matter, from portraits and landscapes to abstracts, embracing diverse stylistic methods from traditional woodcuts to lithographs and etchings. For Chinese artists, this exploration was a journey of self-discovery. Their mission was to seek a source of identity that was at once Chinese and cosmopolitan, modern and traditional.