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GCAC Presents: War Seen Through the Artist’s Lens

 Lauren Emond GCAC Presents: War Seen Through the Artist’s Lens
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The City of Upper Arlington’s Cultural Arts Division is pleased to present Art, Documentary, and Propaganda in Wartime China: The Photography of Sha Fei on display January 5-26, 2011 in the Concourse Gallery. The exhibition, containing 39 of Sha Fei’s most representative works, aims to introduce to the audience the life and work of this important photographer. The exhibit explores the entire spectrum of his work, all of which made a significant contribution to the development of photography in China. Sha Fei’s photographs of the China war with Japan (1937-1945) have become a significant part of the Chinese citizenry’s collective memory of the resistance war, and equally important, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party before it came to power in 1949.

Dedicated to Sha Fei’s life and work, this exhibition showcases a highly selective group of photographs, reprinted from the digital scans of the photographer’s original prints and negatives provided by his children. The exhibit chronologically traces the photographer’s development, conceptually divided into three periods: 1) Sha Fei the fine art photographer, 2) Sha Fei the social documentarian, and 3) Sha Fei the propagandist. A common feature running through these three periods is Sha Fei’s dual focus on photography’s formal beauty and communicative power. As a whole, his professional evolution underscores the intertwining relationship between art and politics that was at the heart of modern Chinese art in the 20th century.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, curator Eliza Ho graduated from the University of Hong before moving to the United States to begin her graduate work in the field of Art History at The Ohio State University. She specializes in modern Chinese art. In 2003, she received her Master of Arts, and is now completing her dissertation on the Chinese wartime photographer Sha Fei (1912-1950), the subject of the current exhibit.

We talked with Eliza recently and posed a few questions about the exhibit.
UA: How many of Sha Fei’s images did you go through before you selected these few for the exhibit and your own dissertation/thesis?
EH: For this exhibit, I went through more than 1200 images, all of which published in Complete Work of Sha Fei (2005). The 39 images selected for the exhibit are the most compelling works, and of better quality from reprinting standpoint. Some images, with their negatives heavily damaged, are not reprintable.

UA: Did Sha Fei ever talk about what his feelings were regarding taking pictures for the party?
EH: Yes. His primary motivation was to use his images to tell the truth about the war in order to mobilize his countrymen to contribute to war efforts. It should be noted that the term propaganda in Chinese simply means to promote, to publicize. It does not carry the negative connotations, such as falsifications and manipulations of truth, with which people would normally associate.

UA: Has his family discussed what they think of his role in taking propaganda pictures? How are they regarded in China? Are they VIPs as a result of his role?
EH: Sha Fei was survived by his wife and five children, all of whom are quite highly regarded in China now. It mainly has to do with their great effort in restoring Sha Fei’s reputation.

Art, Documentary, and Propaganda in Wartime China: The Photography of Sha Fei exhibit, reception and ArtSpeaks by curator Eliza Ho are made possible by Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Franklin County Neighborhood Arts program, funded by Franklin County Board of Commissioners, The Ohio Arts Council and UA Arts. For more information, please contact the Cultural Arts Division via email, online, or call 614-583-5310.

If you go: The exhibit will be on display January 5-26, 2011 in the Concourse Gallery, Municipal Services Center 3600 Tremont Road, Upper Arlington, OH 43221. The Concourse Gallery is free and open to the public Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

GCAC Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus – in partnership with the Columbus Arts Marketing Association, a professional development and networking association of arts marketers. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at the arts in Columbus.

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