2018 Award Finalist: The East Was Red, by Sheila Zhao

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2018 Art Award Finalist

The East Was Red, by Sheila Zhao

For ten years (1966-1976), the political agenda of China’s one-party government, led by its charismatic then helmsman, Mao Zedong, seeped into every aspect of the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. So successful was the government’s endeavor that it profoundly influenced the collective visual consciousness of the time. When opportunities came for picture taking, a relative luxury at the time, individuals deliberately chose to include symbols of the political narrative – wearing Mao pins for instance, or standing in front of a poster or statue of Mao. It became the people’s way to show reverence towards Mao’s god-like persona, as well as to demonstrate their loyalty to the country’s political and socioeconomic reforms. By creating photographs in this manner, the common person contributed to the dissemination of Cultural Revolution ideas and sentiments and became vehicles of propaganda themselves.

I want to draw attention to the physical presence that propaganda held and its alteration of China’s vernacular visual language. By looking at the impact leaders and policies have had in the not so distant past, I hope to provoke viewers to evaluate the effect of propaganda on societies past and present.

For every item in the photographs associated with the pervasive political message of the time I’ve used the color red – a color adopted and still used by the party today and one that represents revolution – to digitally replace the content. The title of this series is a reference to “The East Is Red”, the Cultural Revolution anthem played every day throughout China during this time.



Sheila Zhao is a photographer based in China. Her work has appeared in a variety of international publications and online media.

Website: http://sheila-zhao.com

Finalist Gallery with Captions

The East Was Red, by Sheila Zhao [China] is an Art Award Finalist in the Invisible Photographer Asia Awards 2018. View more 2018 Awards Finalists.

The Invisible Photographer Awards 2018 is proudly supported by G-Technology AP, Sony Singapore, GetIT Comms, Grenadier Press, Exactly Foundation, Photo Kathmandu, Spoon Creative and Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film.

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