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Powerful Images of the Cultural Revolution in Art and Film

"Though I Am Gone" (dir. Hu Jie)

In The Guardian, Tania Branigan profiles an ongoing project of artist Xu Weixin–to complete a series of over one hundred painting of individuals whose lives were perversely impacted by the Cultural Revolution, both “accuser[s] and accused.”

Branigan writes:

Some of Xu’s subjects were victims, some perpetrators. Many were both. Mao is there, as is his infamous wife Jiang Qing; so are unknown scholars and Red Guards. It has taken the artist five years to complete this series of just over 100 paintings. But it is work he has been preparing for all his life. “I feel they are related to that first portrait,” Xu says. “I feel guilty [about my teacher]; but it also helps me to understand… People who were close to you – who were friendly and kind – could suddenly turn upon you.”

Xu Weixin with one of his portraits in his Beijing studio. Photograph: Dan Chung for "The Guardian"

The horrors of the Cultural Revolution, so often especially the attacks of elders and teachers by their young students are referenced in Xu’s work:

The violence shook every strata of society and rippled out to the farthest corners of the country. Teenagers and youths were encouraged to attack fellow citizens. More than one observer has compared the anarchy to Lord Of The Flies… Victims were condemned as “monsters and freaks”; Xu’s response is not to demonise their accusers, but to approach each subject with the same neutral gaze.

This approach to reconciling and discussing too-often passed over elements of a profoundly unsettling history though a visual media is also at the heart of Hu Jie‘s 2007 documentary Though I Am Gone. Using archival photographs taken by the victim’s husband as a narrative through-line, Though I Am Gone uses the power of historic images to face–and give face to–unimaginable wounds of the Cultural Revolution era.


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