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'Searching the Truth' of Chairman Mao

PAINTER Wei Chuyu has spent 18 years working on "the truth" about Chairman Mao, a task that few artists have the guts to undertake.

But Wei, now 65, was undaunted, and the result is "Transvision," a magnificent and fascinating exhibition of 16 realistic, meticulously researched and flattering paintings of the late great Chinese leader.

The exhibition at Shanghai's Sunbow Art Gallery at M50, the art hub, features three acknowledge masterpieces, "Searching the Truth," "Mao Zedong in Shanbei (north of Shaanxi Province) and "Mao Zedong in Zhongnanhai," plus other realistic works.

"The show sheds light on the country's great changes from the founding of New China to contemporary times," says Cao Xiao, owner and artistic director of Sunbow Art Gallery.

The exhibition runs through June 30.

The paintings show Mao in various roles - as a student, an obedient son, a revered leader, a politician and a military leader. He is simple, plain, frugal.

The exhibition also includes "A Moment with His Mother," "Meeting with Ho Chi Minh," "Young Mao Zedong," "Farewell to Zhou Enlai," "Mao Zedong Wearing a Red Army Cap," "Profile of Mao Zedong," "Strolling Down the Path with His Childhood Teacher," "Dining with Qi Baishi," "Lunching with the Villagers of His Hometown," "Meeting with Puyi (the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911)," "A Mood for Highness in Yan'an" and "Fellowship in Jinggang Woods and Contemplation."

Wei, born in Shandong Province in 1945, is a full-time artist with the Chinese Museum of Military History in Beijing. He has witnessed not only China's transition from the revolutionary period to the founding of New China but also its reform and opening-up.

"I got the inspiration (for these paintings) when I visited Chairman Mao's bedroom," he recalls. "I was totally shocked when I saw simple furniture and decoration, with only one bed and a huge number of books scattered around."

Wei says the most ridiculous thing he heard about Chairman Mao was that "Mao had a bunch of beautiful lovers at his home." However, Wei didn't see any evidence of them.

He recalls that when he first walked into Mao's living room, he was struck by its simplicity - Mao even used an old cracked ashtray. Wei says he asked himself if a great man like Chairman Mao just used an old ashtray and lived without fancy furnishings, how could he afford so many women?

Wei says he was also struck by Mao's simple bathroom, with just a toilet and a small shelf.

After visiting Mao's home, Wei decided to use art to show ordinary people the real life of this great man.

"Searching the Truth" depicts Mao propped up in his single bed, engrossed in reading. For better light, he tilts the lamp shades on each side toward his book and covers the shades with dark green towels to cut down the glare.

"Searching the Truth" was Wei's first painting, completed in 1992 after six years. To get the details right, he did extensive research and spoke to many people who worked closely with Mao, including his private nurse and bodyguards.

"I am so glad to have this opportunity to work with Mr Wei for a totally different view on our great man, Chairman Mao," says gallery owner Cao.

"China has gone through a profound and comprehensive process of reform over the past three decades. There are various points of view on Chairman Mao," says Wei. "Some claimed Mao was a hero who attempted to get rid of failed indigenous ethnic traditions, while some thought the opposite."

Date: through June 30, 10am-6pm

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