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The art of influence: Asian propaganda

The art of influence cover

The art of influence: Asian propaganda will be published next Monday by the British Museum Press.

Revolutionary art generally means propaganda – art with a political message that is intended to motivate or persuade. However, propaganda is not just a sinister manipulation, as inferred in the West since the early twentieth century.

In revolutionary and wartime societies, propaganda is considered a vital part of education and political participation. Propaganda encourages or condemns; reinforces existing attitudes and behavior; and promotes social membership within nation, class or work unit.

The art of influence: Asian propaganda by Mary Ginsberg draws on the British Museum’s wide-ranging collection of Asian art to explore the use of political propaganda in Asia from about 1900 to 1976. This fascinating and provocative catalogue features over 100 works of art from countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and India. Posters, cartoons and ceramics are among the art forms that Ginsberg uses to illustrate the power of propaganda in twentieth century Asia.

The art of influence: Asian propaganda is published to complement an exhibition at the British Museum opening on 30th May, which presents a selection of the British Museum’s rich collections of unpublished and rarely seen political art from Asia.

Ahead of publication, we’ve included here an extract from the book in addition to several striking artworks.

From the introduction:

This catalogue focuses on the twentieth century in Asia, an era of almost continual war and revolution with ever-evolving styles and techniques of propaganda. The account presented here takes the relatively neutral position that the main goal of propaganda – and propaganda art – is to create involvement. Not all propaganda is bad; it is not always lies. Propaganda aims to inspire action and belief in a common cause. It builds nations and defies enemies. It informs as well as persuades; promotes and admonishes; includes, excludes and shapes identity politics. It motivates obedience or resistance using a host of methods and modes of appeal.

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Dawn of Victory, Liu Lun. China, 1941. Woodcut, ink on paper, 24 x 15.5 cm. Purchase funded by Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund.

Liu Lun (b. 1913) is a native of Guangdong province, where he trained in printmaking, actively worked in the wartime resistance movement, and taught for many years in higher institutions of art. The British Museum has nine of his works, eight (including this one) from the Thompson collection and one from the international exhibition organized by Jack Chen. Almost all his works are realistic; one print (fig. 16) records the carnage from an actual battle in 1942.

This remarkable patriotic print – heroic cavalry-men charging through the air on a cloud – is unlike any other by Liu Lun. It is rare to know the exact circumstances of a work from this period, but Liu Lun still remembers making it. It was created in 1941, during the second United Front between the Communists and Guomindang. Liu Lun was arts editor for the Creative Committee for the number 4 war district in Guangdong. The Committee published a magazine called New Construction, and this print was made for its cover, to promote resistance and inspire the public. This was the only wartime print he made in what he calls the romantic style, inspired by contemporary Western pictorals.

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Plate, 1930s (probably), India, Bamboo, split and coiled, and lacquered, Diameter: 15.2 cm.

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948), one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement, was committed throughout his life to principles of non-violence (ahimsa) and Indian self sufficiency (swadeshi). In the long campaign for self-rule (swaraj), Gandhi promoted boycotts of foreign goods (mainly British and Japanese) for both political and economic reasons.

His tool was the spinning wheel (charkha), with which he is depicted here. India exported ever-increasing amounts of raw cotton, but would not become a net exporter of cloth piece goods until the 1940s. Gandhi exhorted villagers – especially women – to revive the rural economy by spinning cotton yarn to supplement household agricultural income. The yarn production also supported the carders, weavers and dyers of the cloth. Gandhi’s charkha became the symbol of swadeshi and appeared on the flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931.

This small plate was made in Burma (possibly Pagan) by the laborious and expensive shwe-zawa technique using black lacquer and gold leaf. Many Indians settled in Burma in the colonial period.”

Page 138

Long live Marxism, Lenism, Mao Zedong Thought.  Late 20thcentury, China. Papercut, 16.3 x 27.6 cm. Given by Andrew Bolton.

Papercuts were traditionally made in China as decorations for festivals and rituals. This was an art of the common people, for holidays, weddings and marking the seasonal activities of village life. Particularly at the time of Spring Festival (New Year), farmers and craftsmen made ‘window flowers’ to invoke blessings for the coming year. Among the earliest surviving examples are the ninth-tenth-century flowers found in the so-called Library Cave (Cave 17) at Dunhuang, now in the British Museum.

Communist arts policy transformed this centuries-old folk art into a progressive tool. Decoration for its own sake was anti-revolutionary, but traditional crafts were to be encouraged, their content altered in the service of politics. Gu Yuan and other trained artists at Yan’an produced papercuts during the Resistance War. They were an attractive, comprehensible vehicle to promote production, literacy and support for the army. Propaganda papercuts are still made today.

Papercuts are made with scissors or with knives. Knife-cutting is used for production in large quantities, and professional artists execute topical sets for domestic and foreign consumption. There is nothing left of the bold, colourful folk style in this group portrait of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao – where Mao is nearest to the viewer, and just a bit larger than the others.

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

For further information on The art of influence: Asian propaganda and to look inside the book, please visit the British Museum online shop.

Mary Ginsberg will be speaking about The art of influence: Asian propaganda at The Telegraph Hay Festival on Sunday 2nd June.

Masks: The Art of Expression

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We’re pleased to announce that a new paperback edition of our beautifully illustrated book, Masks: The Art of Expression, is published today.

From ancient times to the present day, masks and the practice of masquerading have exerted a powerful fascination among people around the world. Through their ability to conceal, reveal and transfigure, masks have become a near-universal phenomenon yet their nature, functions and meaning of these disguises are strikingly different across cultures.

In ritual and religious use, as today in Africa or Oceania, mask-wearers may be thought to be possessed by – or even become – a spirit or a god. In ancient Egypt, funerary masks were intended to equip the dead with divine powers and attributes, but the masks used in Japanese Noh plays or in ancient Greek drama helped to portray character. The masks themselves are extraordinary objects made from every kind of material. Beautiful, elaborate, fierce, grotesque or elegant, they demonstrate the creative skills and aesthetics of many different periods and cultures.

This updated edition of a classic book showcases an array of magnificent masks from the British Museum’s collection and beyond. Including examples from eight principal areas – Africa, Oceania, Latin America, the Northwest coast of America, Japan, classical Greece and Rome, Egypt and Europe – Masks: The Art of Expression provides a fascinating insight into the great variety of masks and masking traditions around the world.

We’ve included here a short selection of masks featured in the book.

Mask 1

The mask of Hanna is one of the most well-known masks from Nō. It is used for the character of a jealous and revengeful demon who was once a beautiful woman. The eyes, originally of gilded metal, glare out, the mouth is drawn wide open in a ferocious snarl and the horns embody evil. Only the faint trace of eyebrows high on the forehead and the suggestion of delicate features indicate her former beauty. H. (without horns) 20.3 cm. British Museum 1946,1216.2. Donated by C. Winch.

Mask 2

North American wood mask, probably representing a creature of spirit associated with a specific family tradition in the Winter Ceremonial. Collected, before 1868, at Fort Rupert, the Hudson’s Bay Company post at the northern end of Vancouver island, where the Kwakwaka’wakw met and traded with other peoples from further north. H. 20 cm. British Museum Am.1562. Donated By Henry Christy.

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Dance mask in the form of a demon’s face. Papier mâché covered with clay. Chorida, India, 1994. H. 57 cm; W. 51 cm; Donated by Daniel J. Ryscroft. British Museum As1995,17.3.

Mask 4

North American mask of wood and fur, from the Makah, Washington State, representing Bookwus, Wild Man of the Woods. 20th century. H. 23 cm. British Museum Am1941,01.1. Donated by Harry Geoffrey Beasley.

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Masks: The Art of Expression is edited by John Mack and is published by the British Museum Press at £25. For further information, please visit the British Museum shop website.

5000 Years of Glass

Next week, the new edition of 5000 Years of Glass will hit the shelves! The 2012 edition of this definitive world history of glassmaking and decorative techniques from 2500 BC is now updated to include the period 1940 to the present day.

5000 Years of GlassThis classic book traces the history of glassmaking in its many forms, from its origins in Western Asia some 5000 years ago through the invention of glassblowing around the first century BC, to the introduction of mechanized processes and finally to new styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. Highlighted are the flourishing industries of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the extraordinary achievements of the Roman Empire, the elegant vessels of the Islamic Near East, the superb mastery of Renaissance Venice and the wide-ranging experiments of modern Europe and America, all written by a team of distinguished experts from Britain and America.

We’ve showcased here some examples of the beautiful glass works featured in 5000 Years of Glass.

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Tall core-formed alabastron of sea-green glass. Said to be from Pozzuoli (ancient Puteoli) in Italy, but probably made in western Asia in a Phoenician glasshouse in the 7th or the 6th century BC.

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According to the bold inscription on the body, this lamp was made for Saif al-Din Shaikhu’’l-‘Umari, a prominent Mamluk official and powerful supporter of Sultan Hasan. The lamp was probably intended for the mosque, monastery (Khanqah) and tomb which he built in Cairo between 1349 and 1356. The three roundels on the neck contain Shaikhu’s blazon, a cup, which indicates that he held the office of cup-bearer. Syria or Egypt, about 1350.

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Nef (or ship) ewer of cristallo with added details in blue glass and two mould-pressed satyr-mask medallions. This is one of the few genuine specimens of this fragile Renaissance table decoration to have survived, although they were being made in Venice from 1521 by Ermonia Vivarini under a special privilege. Hitherto it has been universally accepted that they were also being made at the leading façon de Venise centre in the Southern Netherlands, the Colinet glassworks at Beauwelz, but the evidence – a sketch (with commentary) in the MS pattern book shown as the ‘Catalogue Colinet’ (Rakow Library, Corning Museum of Glass) – can no longer be regarded as authentic. This sketch purports to be a record of the very large glass nef offered to the emperor Charles V in 1549. Venice, about 1525- 50.

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‘Inari’ bowl, designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1967 for Iitala. Produced 1967 – 81. Inari is the area in the far north of Finland on the arctic border. Wirkkala was fascinated by the experiences of everyday life in this harsh frozen landscape, recreated here in glass. Mould-blown and partly cut glass.

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

5000 Years of Glass, edited by Hugh Tait, is published by the British Museum Press (paperback, £25) and is available from the British Museum online shop, and will be available in bookshops starting on Monday 26th November.

The Telegraph Hay Festival: 31 May – 10 June 2012

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This summer, the Hay Festival celebrates its 25th year with a stunning programme of international writers and thinkers. The British Museum Press is delighted to be partnering with Hay to present a lecture and talk for our recent release, Shakespeare: staging the world.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Shakespeare 1 – Staging the World

Barclays Pavilion

1.00PM

Written by internationally-acclaimed author and editor Jonathan Bate and the curator of Renaissance Europe at the British Museum, Dora Thornton, Shakespeare: staging the world provides a unique and fascinating insight into the early modern world, seen through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays.

The event will be chaired by Clemency Burton-Hill, and will be the first of three Shakespeare sessions.

The full festival programme is available here.

Retail Recommends

Specialist booksellers from the British Museum Bookshop give their recommendations for the best illustrated titles across art, archaeology history and world cultures.  This week,  Akemi and Carlos go head to head with their favourites from our Masterpieces series:

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Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt is full of powerful images of the Ancient Egyptian collections in the British Museum. With concise and clear text providing a valuable introduction to the magnificent history of Ancient Egypt it’s ideal as both a gift and an educational resource.” Akemi, bookseller

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“Masterpieces of Classical Art is the definitive introduction to the arts of the Classical World. Lavish images and accurate descriptions will take you on an amazing journey of discovery through the British Museums’ splendid collections.”  Carlos, bookseller

Can’t make your mind up? Masterpieces of the British Museum offers an introduction to over 250 of the museum’s higlights. Available now from the British Museum shop.

Ritual and Honour: Warriors of the North American Plains

We’d like to introduce you to Kevin Haywahe.

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Kevin is an Assiniboine dancer who features in our new release Ritual and Honour: Warriors of the North American Plains.

Author and British Museum curator Max Carocci has been conducting research with Plains Indians since 1989 and in this beautifully illustrated book he explores the world of Native North American warfare and ritual. Through exceptional examples of feather headdresses, mocassins, painted hides, pipes and tomahawks, Ritual and Honour reveals the ceremonial, spiritual and political lives of the warriors of the North American Plains.

‘Read the rest of this entry’ for some more preview images from the book or visit the British Museum shop to find out more.

Read the rest of this entry »