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27 Standing guard for Our Great Motherland

Shen Jiawei

Poster 53 x 77cm
Courtesy of Shen Jiawei

This painting emerged from Jiawei’s experience in Manchuria and his time in the Corps in the early 1970s. He tried to resist the ‘bright, tall and red’ (hong guang liang) style of the era, by creating a stronger pictorial line and through a realisation of male faces drawn from life (border guards). However, the faces had to be re-painted by another artist as they were required to conform to Jiang Qing’s style of ‘lifting up’ – or heightened revolutionary realism. Jiawei did not see the new faces until he visited his own painting in the Beijing (National) Museum in 1975. The painting was lost after the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, but was later retrieved from its exile in Heilongjiang, where a colleague had kept it hidden. Although damaged by years of poor storage, the painting was saved by the efforts of conservators at the Gallery of New South Wales, and then curated by Julia F. Andrews for her breakthrough exhibition China: 5000 years at the Guggenheim in New York and in Bilbao in 1998.