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A Chinese Arnolfini

March 4, 2012

Decadence during the Cultural Revolution


Shi Guowei’s pastiche of the famous Arnolfini Wedding by Van Eyck, was exhibited recently at the Albemarle Gallery in London.

The Arnolfini depicts a rich merchant’s traditional marriage. Everything in the painting says wealth, status, formality, a serious contract being entered into. The woman appears pregnant but isn’t – it was the fashion then. The mirror symbolises virginal purity.

In Shi Guowei’s Wedding Invitation the woman is a red guard, and really pregnant. Whatever else stopped during the Cultural Revolution fornication carried on. The kicked-off high heels mean the same in China and the West. The loyal alert dog is replaced by a lazy cat, the mirror by a clock, a symbol of death. The bare bulb and peeling wall tell their story. Look closely. Is the clock not even straight?

This is subversive art.

Jim Thornton

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