Mao Factor

Wang Wen-Hai's potted political leader

Text by Wu Nan-Nan

Tank _vol 7issue 115

Wang depicts Mao as being able to write upside-down, among his other superhuman skills. The tablet reads “China Revolution”. Text and image courtesy of Art World

Wang Wen-Hai’s work celebrates the recent history of China through a near-obsessive production of sculptures of Mao Zedong. Wang is based in Yan’an, Shaanxi province, which is known to Chinese as the sacred birthplace of the Communist revolution. Before becoming an artist, he worked at the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Museum, which contains a vast archive of uniforms, weaponry, Chinese translations of books by Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky, and even a taxidermy horse that is said to have once carried Mao. Wang’s sculptures range from small clay busts to enormous fibreglass pieces. He has exhibited exhaustively in China as well as internationally, and represented China at the 2005 Prague Biennial. “My parents were workers,” he says. “Our life wasn’t easy when I was young. We were told to be frugal and work hard. My generation grew up with Mao’s philosophy. We still have such a deep, emotional connection to him. I loved to draw when I was young, and I used to copy posters during the Cultural Revolution. I was a guide [at the Yan’an Revolutionary Memorial Museum], spreading the Mao word. I discovered a lot of unpublished photographs of the Mao generation there. By that time I was reading like crazy. Even Mao [the Little Red Book] I read four times! So I tried to make a Mao sculpture. Then my wife became a sculptor. Apart from raising our children, all we did was sculpt. We made hundreds of them. Our two boys followed us into sculpture, and our studio in Yan’an is a tourist site now. I make statues of Marx and Mao to spread their thinking: it is my faith and my dream. For the future, I am working on my ‘Dream Set of 3’: I would like to build a 130-metre-high Mao Memorial Tower. I want to make 25,000 sculptures, from Yangjialing to Wangjiaping, to memorialise the Long March. And I would like to make a Mao sculpture that is bigger than the Statue of Liberty.” §