1: Soldier Sentimentality: Production and Military Social Relations in Socialist Amateur Art Practice
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Amateur art practice was a pervasive national phenomenon during the socialist period in the People’s Republic of China, part of an ambitious attempt to transform the fine arts from the highly specialized labor of the professional, academy-trained artist, to a leisure activity accessible across the working class. Known variously as “amateur fine arts creation” (yeyu meishu chuangzuo), “mass fine arts activities” (qunzhong meishu huodong) and “worker-peasant-soldier fine arts” (gongnongbing meishu), this paper examines the development of amateur art by rank and file members of the military from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, the least well-studied of the worker-peasant-soldier formation at the crux of the working class’s conceptualization in Maoist China. In woodcuts, papercuts, cartoons, sketches, and paintings, untrained artists who were members of the People’s Liberation Army depicted the martial and nonmartial forms of labor that became central to the P.L.A.’s mandate following Liberation. Where amateur art by peasant and worker artists is rooted in the critique and celebration of production practices, soldier art often depicts the emotional affect of social relations within the military, as well as civil-military sentimentality. Through an exhibition history of soldier art, including exhibitions of PLA soldier artists in Shanghai in 1964 and in Beijing in 1975, I trace the role of soldier art in the articulation of the grassroots fine arts practice of the Maoist period.