Foreign Art Censored

According to Newstrack India, an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s paintings scheduled to be displayed in Beijing has been forbidden to display eight paintings of Chairman Mao. The article cites political reasons, quoting the museum director as saying that “certain images can still not be shown in China”. Despite similar, pop focused images of Chairman Mao having been displayed in other museums, there seems to be a distinct disconnect between what a foreign and local artist is permitted to showcase. The image of Chairman Mao is so closely tied to China’s politically sensitive past, perhaps explaining the censorship as a dismissal of outside commentary, preferring that criticism and irony, if any, should come from China itself. The very act of censorship ties into one of the main questions of my research proposal, whether museums ever come into conflict with the state’s political aims. Although politically sensitive material seems to be fairly uncommon in China, it would be very interesting to explore similar instances of censorship in Chinese museums. It would be very interesting to see how Chinese museums present politically sensitive issues, and whether some parts of Chinese history, such as the cultural revolution, are ever mentioned at all. It would also be interesting to see if different forms of speech are approached differently, whether in presentation or censorship, and see if history and art are censored and presented differently. My experiences in American museums will provide interesting context, as some museums focus more on an idealized perspective of American history, while some overemphasize the negative parts of America’s history.

I hope to conduct research in at least two or three art and history museums, to compare and contrast them to American museums and each other. I will also prepare for the study abroad by visiting history and art museums with an ethnographic viewpoint over the summer before we leave for Beijing so my contextual information is as up to date as possible. Some museums I plan to visit in China are the National Museum of China and the Museum of Chinese History. Both of these museums offer important information on not only Chinese history, but how China presents it to the Chinese people. I also hope to visit some smaller museums, to see if smaller museums have more leeway in presenting controversial information.


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