From Propaganda to Pop Culture: How Maoist Propaganda Transformed Into a Global Art Commodity
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CitationO'Keeffe, Andrew. 2019. From Propaganda to Pop Culture: How Maoist Propaganda Transformed Into a Global Art Commodity. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractPropaganda artwork created during the Chinese Cultural Revolution has been a widely studied topic since the decline of Mao Tse-Tung’s leadership. Less often discussed is how Maoist inspired visual arts transformed from government-sanctioned propaganda into pop culture iconography. This thesis will discuss the artistic evolution that took place through examining the methods used by Chinese propagandists to saturate foreign audiences with Maoist iconography, and how the appropriation of those symbols transformed the works from propaganda to pop art.
While lacking meaningful diplomatic relationships abroad, the Chinese Communist Party undertook an international propaganda campaign with a goal of promoting Mao as the symbolic leader of the global proletariat. With no influential alliances, Chinese propagandists circumvented traditional diplomatic channels and saturated audiences around the world with propaganda in the forms of radio broadcasts, magazines, pamphlets, paintings, books of Mao’s quotations, and more. China’s blind distribution of Maoist propaganda was so extensive that the imagery became globally significant. Additionally, the appropriation of Maoist symbols by foreign groups led to an artistic transformation specific to the causes of international leftist groups. Eventually, the propaganda reached a critical point of global recognition and penetrated into the realm of pop culture iconography. Coinciding with the liberalization of China, this ushered in a new era where Maoist propaganda symbols became commodities on the global art market. Artists from around the world have capitalized on Maoist icons, which regularly feature at auction and in high profile museums exhibitions around the world.
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