Organized Panel Session
An essay published in the February 23, 1962 edition of People’s Daily denounced the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo. The author, Shi Lu (1919-1982), was not a statesman but an artist. This paper examines factors that sanctioned this and other Chinese artists to not only comment on international affairs but see themselves as participants in a global socialist network. The answer can be found several years earlier—the mid-1950s—when Maoist China made its bid to partner with non-aligned Third World nations during the early phases of the Cold War and enlisted the artists like Shi Lu to cultivate these relationships through diplomatic trips. This paper complicates the notion of an isolated Maoist art world and argues that China’s artistic exchange mediated the country’s position in the Cold War. By proclaiming “Art is unique in that the more ethnically specific it is, the more international it can become,” Shi Lu joined artists across non-Western spheres in articulating an alternative modernity based on nativist practices in contestation to Western modernism. The artist’s personal transformation and nationalistic advocacy offer insight on not only the artistic climate of the Maoist period but also how artists of the Third World redefined the terms of modern art.