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Cut & Paste: Artist Yingxue Zuo Mixes Memories Of Chinese Cultural Revolution With US Politics

Yingxue Zuo stands in front of '60s - Cold War,' one of four murals in new show 'The Voice' at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Yingxue Zuo
Yingxue Zuo stands in front of '60s - Cold War,' one of four murals in new show 'The Voice' at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Visual artist Yingxue Zuo’s family was persecuted by China’s ruling Communist Party when he was a child. His father was sent to a labor camp, where he died when Yingxue was 5 years old. His family was forced to move to ever-more remote cities in northeast China until, at age 15, he found himself working with a drill team searching for coal in the Changbai Mountains. 

It was a bleak situation. A family friend saw some drawings Zuo made and hung on his wall, and suggested he try to parlay his artistic skill into a brighter future. 

Seven years later, when Deng Xiaoping took power in China and re-opened colleges and universities that had been closed under Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Zuo applied to an art school. He got in. 

It was the beginning of a prolific career. He relocated to the U.S. in 1986 to be a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. Since then, Zuo, 65, has exhibited his paintings in many shows in China and in the U.S.

Yingxue Zuo's painting 'Leaders - In the name of people' 8/30/19
Credit Yingxue Zuo
Yingxue Zuo's painting 'Leaders - In the name of people.'

His latest show breaks from the landscapes and cityscapes that populate much of his work. With “The Voice,” on view through Dec. 14 at the school where he did his graduate work, Zuo addresses what he sees as similarities between the political climate of contemporary America and that of the China of his youth. 

“Before, I truly believe artists should not get involved in [politics],” he said. “Because, myself, being harmed by the political reason.” 

The show’s centerpiece is a quartet of large murals populated with figures from the news, from President John F. Kennedy to Stormy Daniels.

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Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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