Pushing the Boundaries: Transnational and Transmedial Movement in Chinese Visual Culture, 1930s-1960s
4: Zhang Guangyu's Ethnographic Illustrations in 1950s China
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of California, San Diego, United States
The formation of Socialism in China marked a transition from the promotion of cultural nationalism in the 1930s to the construction of an ethno-nationalist system. The wartime relocation of scholars and cultural institutes in the 1940s generated interest in fieldwork on ethnic minorities and marginal areas of western China. Among the artists who turned their interest to material culture and decorative arts in southwestern China during the 1940s, Zhang Guangyu (1900-1965) remains significantly understudied. He is generally recognized as a commercial artist active in Shanghai during the 1930s, engaging with a wide range of fields including graphic design, interior design, caricatures, and cartoons. This research supplements the existing studies by focusing on representations of ethnic minorities in Southwest China in his late illustrations published during the late 1950s. This shift of focus demonstrates how folk and ethnographic traditions play a significant role in the construction of cultural identity during the 1950s. A closer look at Zhang’s drawings and illustrations enriches our understanding of how he transformed the primitive aesthetics in the 1930s to adapt to the new discourse of national recognition in both domestic and international context. Beyond the formal resemblance between Zhang and the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, the paper rethinks cross-cultural borrowings at a deeper level by probing into the materiality of ethnographic drawings. Seeing them as an epistemological tool and a communicative device, this essay explores the dynamic process of boundary-constructing and border-crossing in the formations of ethno-national cultural paradigm in Socialist China.