Mo Yi

Tianmo Zhang
  • Mo Yi, 5.16 Notice, 2017. Photo: courtesy of the artist & Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Mo Yi, 5.16 Notice, 1981, detail, 2017. Photo: courtesy of the artist & Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Mo Yi, 5.16 Notice, 1966, detail, 2017. Photo: courtesy of the artist & Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Mo Yi, 5.16 Notice, 2012, detail, 2017. Photo: courtesy of the artist & Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

Commemorating a Social Truth

5.16 Notice (2017 –) is a testimony to Beijing-based photographer Mo Yi’s ongoing interest in unravelling social injustices and urban realities in post-Cultural Revolution China. In this installation, fifty-two black and white archival and propaganda images depicting many facets of this political movement are displayed side by side, forming a large rectangular mosaic. Repeated throughout the photographs is the widely recognizable figure of Chairman Mao, with his signature hand wave, as seen during his many public appearances. Such symbolic images are surrounded by others showcasing propaganda posters, revolution masses, and intellectuals and party officials being subjected to public ridicule.

As a decade-long political campaign condemning traditional culture and individual artistic expression in the name of political control, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) has had a defining impact on China’s artistic and social systems. To highlight the dramatic repercussions of this movement to this day, Mo de-faced the images in an attempt to demand official apology from the Party for its role in the perpetuation of this campaign. In a performative act of defiance, Mo marked each individual photograph with a year written boldly across it in red calligraphic characters, beginning with 1966 when the movement was first launched. Appearing more faintly in the background are the inscriptions of “5.16” repeated throughout the images to emphasize the exact starting date.

With each year’s passing, Mo commits to adding a new image to the installation until the apology is issued by the State. In this light, the artist imbues these historical images with a unique temporality as an open-ended work that continues to engage with and respond to the political climate of our time, forty years after the fact. Moreover, the artist’s use of calligraphic characters also speaks to a certain subversiveness, as the practice of traditional Chinese art forms, though widely revived in contemporary works today, was severely repressed during the Revolution era. Photographic at first glance, 5.16 Notice is foremost a performance that transcends the resilience of artists and cultural practitioners today, moving beyond the country’s history of alienation, towards a fertile environment of creative expression.

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