From Mao to Now

We travelled by train, bus, car and ferry, and it took a while, but we got there. and we made it home. Our destination was the Armory Gallery at Newington, near Sydney Olympic Park. We caught the train to Strathfield and the bus to Silverwater Gaol. And from there it was just a 10-minute walk along the road. We both thought, at one point, it was like being in a country town, as there was almost no development, and the road was a little patchy.

While they were preparing for tonight’s rugby union match between Australia and France at nearby ANZ Stadium, Damo and I were instead headed to the opening of From Mao To Now, an exhibition curated by my friend Kate. It’s the largest group exhibition ever held in Australia of China-related works, apparently, and the Arts and Olympic Park Minister, Frank Sartor was there for the opening.

From Mao to Now at Sydney Olympic Park

The exhibition begins with a series of forty or fifty “propaganda posters” from a “propaganda museum” in Shanghai. With their bright colours and imagery that includes everything from ordinary workers to a “timeline” that includes Marx, Lenin and Stalin, they’re visually quite stunning to behold. And then when you look more closely at the posters and examine the many common themes – extolling the importance of “physical strength”, “hard work” and “nation-building” – you begin to understand how important they must have been in the modernisation process. One, in particular, caught my eye: a poster of an athlete, with the flags of a number of countries including the UK, the US, and France in the background, and underneath the phrase “you need to be internationally competitive”

From Mao to Now at Sydney Olympic Park

And from there, the exhibition merges fairly seamlessly into works by Australian artists with an interest in China, and Australian-Chinese artists reflecting on modern China. As you might imagine, some of the works are highly political, such as the portrait of a dancer with his feet facing an image of Mao (culturally it’s highly offensive), along with images of tanks. Another favourite piece was a series of emails by an artist who bought tickets in the name “Dali Lama” at the Beijing Olympics.

From Mao to Now at Sydney Olympic Park

But it’s not all political. There are some wonderful porcelain pieces, a series of three works based around Chinese dragons which I loved, and there’s even a portrait of Cathy Freeman by an Australian-Chinese artist. Also memorable is a video work by an Australian Chinese artist who reflects on women and politics in Australia, with particular reference to Pauline Hanson. There are lots of memorable works in the exhibition, and you really need to set aside an hour or two to absorb everything that’s contained in it.

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