Peasant Paintings from Huhsien County of China

This exhibition is now closed

Huhsien County is situated in the central part of Shansi Province of China. Facing the Weiho River in the North and falling back on the ChinLing mountains in the South, it is a stretch of fertile land rich in produce, comprising 21 rural peoples communes, with a population of 430,000. The painting movement in Huhsien County, Shenshi Province, started from small beginnings. It started in fact on the construction site of a new reservoir in 1958, year of the great Leap Forward, when a few people had the idea of painting the work in progress as a record and stimulus, Conditions were difficult at first and where no paints were available they made their own colours from soot, red soil, and wine. But their initiative was taken up by the County Party Committee who organised art lasses in which the present painters could learn techniques from professionals.

Gradually, painted imagery began to expand in the every day life of the area. Village walls were decorated with murals, open-air exhibitions were held in the fields, pictures were used in teaching, even walls of reservoirs and water conduits were painted.

All these developments were greatly accelerated in Huhsien as in other places by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which clarified the theoretical principles behind the initiatives the peasants had already taken in practice. By showing they wanted to paint, to write, to dance, as well as produce the nation's food, they challenged the separation between manual and mental work and they forced an opposite reaction in artistic circles. Professional artists began to spend some of their time working in the communes and factories.

The amateur artists in this province now number over 1000. They are mostly ordinary commune members and the rest cadres at the grassroots level, former poor peasants, ex-farm hands, veteran artisans as well as educated youths who have returned to the village after finishing school.

The spirit of these paintings is of optimism and happiness for they are meant to fill their audience with enthusiasm. In the new China today they continue the old present tradition of New Year Paintings which used to express the hope of good fortune in the year ahead.

Between August 6 and August 27 – 78 paintings from Huhsien County will be on exhibition in the Gallery. The exhibition will be accompanied by a 16mm film with a sound track in English and there will be a tape of Chinese music. Fully illustrated catalogues with an excellent text will also be available.

('Peasant Paintings from Huhsien County, Shensi Province, China', Bulletin, No.4, July/August, p.3)