“I am trying to tell history from my point of view, to record the important global movements of the 20th century.”

Born Shanghai, 1948. Lives and works in New South Wales

A celebrated propaganda painter in Maoist China, Shen Jiawei by the late 1980s had lost his faith in Communism. As he describes it, “You once believed in a certain religion, and now you don’t believe in that religion. But when you did believe, you made a painting … and you know you painted it very well.”  The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 indirectly helped him stay in Australia, where he had gone on an English-study visa. Appalled when the regime opened fire on the student demonstrators, “I withdrew from the Party, then realised I couldn’t come back to China.”  Shen Jiawei now lives in the artists’ village of Bundeena, south of Sydney.  He has painted portraits of many prominent Australians; ten have reached the finals of the Archibald Prize. He continues to make propaganda paintings, but the faith he now promotes is a kind of transnational humanism.  His 1972 Imperial Palanquin after Yan Liben (2001) finds deep historical resonances in the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the court of “Emperor” Mao.  Absolute Truth (2000) positions Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II in front of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, in which Satan resembles Adolf Hitler.  Mao “turned history upside down,” Shen Jiawei says. “I want to turn it right side up.”

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