Mao Sculpture Plays Head Games

Brother artists Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang took the phrase “off with his head” to new lengths with their new life-size bronze statue of Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. The work, entitled “Mao’s Guilt,” separates the communist leader’s body from his head but with interesting intention—since the Gao brothers infamous work has lead to exhibition closings and studio raids in the past, the two keep Mao’s head hidden separately, only reuniting it with the rest of their body of work for special occasions. September 3 was one such event—Mao’s head did indeed roll out at a Gaos “party” (i.e. one of handful of invitation-only private showings they host during the year). “Mao’s Guilt” represents the largest struggle amongst avant-garde Chinese artists, trying to push the boundaries of creative expression that is still stifled as the country celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Artists are free to make social and political commentary in their work, but explicitly criticizing the nation’s leaders is still taboo. Yet the brothers claim “Mao’s Guilt” will be their last work based on the Chinese leader for a while since they say his image has been overused in popular art, a strong sign of progression since the country’s Cultural Revolution.