- John Slaby
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- Legacy by John Slaby
Legacy by John Slaby
Archival Photographic Print (without mat)
13 x 12
Some time ago I was thinking of the legacy of the German Idealist school of philosophy: Kant, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche and the tremendous damage their philosophies wrought on the twentieth century, particularly Communism and Nazism. This crystallized for me when I read Jung Chang’s biography on Mao Tse Tung, which described his power hungry egomania that lead to the death of 75 million Chinese people and the irreparable loss of so much Chinese culture.
This still life brings to the fore all the elements of his misrule. The skull, of course, is the symbol of the deaths that he brought to the nation; the toy soldiers the military games he played solely for political purposes, particularly the long march (in which he didn’t do any marching) and the Korean war (a failed attempt to grind down the West and coerce the Soviets into giving him the Bomb); the flag the shallow patriotism used to manipulate people; the button the symbol of the cult of personality that he encouraged as well as the stack of the “Little Red Book” of his quotations - a work of abysmal boredom that I could not bring myself to finish. A collection of self-serving definitions and tautologies, it wasn’t even good for a laugh, unlike the hysterical “Communist Manifesto.” Here is just one gem:
“A revolutionary party is carrying out a policy whenever it takes any action. If it is not carrying out a correct policy it is carrying out an incorrect policy.”
Not exactly the Federalist Papers.
Also shown in the painting is a terracotta soldier from Xian, whose face has been broken – a symbol of the terror of the Cultural Revolution in which irreplaceable artifacts of Chinese culture were destroyed. (This, fortunately, is an anachronism, as these were not discovered until after the Cultural Revolution. Fortunately, since had then been known to exist, they would have been destroyed also.)
Lastly, is the rice bowl. This is a plain bowl typically used by peasants. It is cracked and empty symbolizing the famines created by Mao’s disastrous agricultural policy and exportation of goods used to generate revenue to fund the military. Beside this bowl are the destroyed remains of another. This one is red, typically used by the wealthy and represents the destruction not only of these people, but of the wealth of China as a whole.
Above all this hangs Mao’s famous portrait which today still haunts Tiananmen Square.