Pushing the Boundaries: Transnational and Transmedial Movement in Chinese Visual Culture, 1930s-1960s
3: Primitivism and Resistance: Miguel Covarrubias' Influence in Shanghai
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
The Ohio State University, United States
Research into Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias’ (1904-1957) stylistic influence on Republican Chinese artists working in Shanghai during the 1930s, recently undertaken by scholars including Paul Bevan and Zheng Shengtian, has stimulated further investigation into the fullness of the artist’s global legacy. While many scholars have acknowledged the impact of Covarrubias’ style on Republican Chinese print media generally, my project considers in particular the reception of his primitivist art in Shanghai. Covarrubias’ primitivist modernism, developed in part due to the artist's participation in the Harlem Renaissance, left an impression on the print culture that defines China in the period from 1928 to 1949, especially in the treaty port of Shanghai and amongst cartoon artists who fled the city in 1937 after the Japanese invasion. Through a case study of illustrations by Liang Baibo and Ye Qianyu, both members of the National Salvation Cartoon Propaganda Corps, my research, by applying a theoretical framework that connects Covarrubias' experiences in both Harlem and Shanghai, builds upon the history of Chinese print media, traditional art, and critical discourses on primitivism. Following their encounters with Covarrubias, I argue, these artists utilized a primitivist aesthetic with the intention of representing themselves as citizens of a modernized China in response to the threat of foreign imperialism. In revitalizing traditional Chinese art as part of an effort to embolden resistance and national pride, the artists developed a style which reflected their experiences with the “golden age” of manhua in Shanghai and the hybrid, “in-between” nature of Covarrubias’ primitivist aesthetic.