“Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom; 8990,” is one image from a series of photographs by the artist, portraying a Chinese takeover of the United States. The photograph uses familiar symbolism and historical dystopianism, but looks squarely to the future. Never forgetful of the past, this body of work engages the constitution of the future, affirmatively critical, specifically with respect to globalism, the identity of the self and self-views, the social landscape, post-colonialism, and that of the larger national body politic.
In early 1956 Mao Zedong launched a campaign with a series of speeches to start what was seemingly an attempt for liberalization and intellectual freedom. The title of this artwork is a popular misquotation of a quote firmly associated with Mao, “Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Taken from classical Chinese poetry, Mao used this slogan to proclaim a great society where arts, academia, and intellectuals were free to debate and flourish. As a result, artists and academics came out of hiding and there was a brief flowering of culture.
As the campaign began to gather pace, intellectuals began to criticize censorship, the Soviet economic model, and human rights abuses. Mao underestimated the amount of criticism and by July 1957 altered the speech to say that intellectual freedom was only valid when it contributed to strengthening communism, sending anyone who contradicted the campaign to labor camps.
In the artist’s photography series, suggestions of hidden political dangers are subsumed to the romance of “the beautiful idea.” The models for the imagery are Pan Asian American artists, and academics specializing in Chinese culture, the very group that would be at risk in the Hundred Flowers Movement. The costumes are discarded U.S. military uniforms, traditional Chinese dresses called cheongsams, and stylized Chinese mock ups taken from a Beijing photography studio, specializing in getups for foreign tourists to re-enact Cultural Revolution Propaganda imagery.
By Mei Xian Qiu