White Rabbit Gallery’s Serve The People comprises four floors awash with creative outpourings of fear, anarchy and hope. In a far-reaching showcase of some of the most significant contemporary Chinese art, the exhibition opens our eyes to artworks of faux beauty, obsessive detail and the abject ethereal. ‘Serve The People’, a slogan from China’s Cultural Revolution, alludes to the pressures on artists operating in socialist society to make the ‘right’ kind of art.

Curator Edmund Capon (former Art Gallery of New South Wales director) has amalgamated an impressive range of art objects to relay themes and styles from recent years. While not every artwork hits you over the head with a political message, Serve The People’s resounding reference to the struggles experienced by civilians and artists under Mao’s oppressive reign can certainly be felt.

The top floor of the exhibition, accessible only by lift, is the stand out. It’s haunted by Sun Furong’s Tomb Figure, a work made up of 100 zhongshan tunics, or Mao suits, that have been repeatedly hacked. The composition of the work has a formal structure to it that mimics lines of soldiers awaiting battle. In contrast to this, Su Meng-Hung’s painting Album Of Immortal Blossoms In An Everlasting Spring – an imposing painting depicting a skull made from dripping plants and animals – grasps at a distorted message of hope.

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Su Meng-Hung, Album of Immortal Blossoms In An Everlasting Spring.

And don’t let the colourful, kitschy glamour found in many artworks fool you; these works are often as dark in theme as the more distressing pieces found in Serve The People. Wu Yuren’s A Sentence is a collection of brightly-coloured symbols designed to comment on the need to hide criticism of authority from the public eye – the artist created an encrypted language to visually voice his frustrations after he was imprisoned for one year without charge.

4/5 stars


Hero image: Shen Shaomin, LaboratoryLaboratory: Three-Headed, Six-Armed Superhuman, 2005, bones, bone meal, glue, glass, dimensions variable (detail)

Serve The People is currently showing at White Rabbit Gallery and runs until February 2, 2014.

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