China’s woodblock prints portray political turmoil

0 Posted by - January 11, 2010 - Blog, Visual art

Woodblock printing is an ancient Chinese art form—the earliest known prints date from the Han Dynasty before the year 220. Over the past hundred years, however, the medium became politicized. Prints were created by the Communist Party to communicate with primarily illiterate population, while later artists would rebel and reinvent woodcuts for their own purposes.

“Portrait of Mao Zedong” by Chen Tiegeng, 1937-1948.
From the collection Professor and Mrs. Theodore Herman,
Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University.

Today woodblock prints provide a fascinating perspective into China’s history of political upheaval. That history will be explored at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts with their exhibition of 65 prints entitled “Woodcuts in Modern China, 1937-2008: Towards a Universal Pictorial Language”. The show opens January 23 and runs until April 18.

Boston printmaker and professor Renee Covalucci co-curated the exhibition, and recently spoke to the Kalamazoo Gazette about the work on display at the gallery.

“When you give a definition for avant-garde, it is art work that has to really change society and behavior in society — or at least documents that change. And it has to change the appearance of the art,” Covalucci said. “These works are considered the start of the Chinese avant-garde movement.”

“Most of the messages were leaning toward the idealism of Mao Zedong and were able to get the attention of peasants and share their views with them. They focused on atrocities and how things could be different. […] But in the rural and inner sections of the country, the images were a little shocking. People were afraid of them with the rough marks on people’s faces and the shading. To them that was a ghost or death.”

Read the Gazette’s preview of the show at

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