Thu, Aug 19, 2004 - Page 15 News List

Fanatical Mao follower plans giant statue in Yanan

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BEIJING

The work of Wang Wenhai, who was born to poor farmers in central China, deals in memory. Despite witnessing scores of neighbors starve during the widespread famine that followed the government's forced collectivization of farms in the late 1950s, he became an ardent Mao follower during the Cultural Revolution. "In 1966 I became a Red Guard," he said. "I studied Mao. I carried out the revolution."

Wang had a perfectly proletariat background, and in 1970 he was sent to Yanan to work as a tour guide at a museum celebrating the party. There he met an artist who taught him sculpture, and he quickly applied the craft to glorifying Mao. On the back of many of his works he still inscribes the Cultural Revolution-era phrase "Mao is the red sun in our hearts!" But unlike most Chinese, many of whom suffered under Mao, Wang did not discard his fanaticism after Mao died in 1976. "Wang loves Mao," Lu, the curator, said. "He's totally devoted to his art."

No one who looks at any of the more than 1,300 statues by Wang questions his devotion, but since he began to collaborate with the Long March project his works have become increasingly abstract. Mao is traditionally portrayed in dignified style -- serene, thoughtful, usually with one arm raised in a gesture of imperial benevolence.

Lu said he hoped to take works and documentation of his project abroad. Several pieces will be exhibited at a biennale in Taipei, in October. For the large shows, he said, he will take several of Wang's statues.

Wang hopes to find a market for his works, which range in price from a few hundred to tens of thousands of US dollars. He said he needed the money to build the world's biggest Mao statue, to tower over Yanan.

"We should all understand Mao better," he said.

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