Within the idiom of Political Pop that emerged in Chinese contemporary art in the 1990s, the works of Wang Guangyi, Yu Youhan and Li Shan illustrate a spectrum of nuanced plurality in this category with their individual reinterpretation of visual culture associated with the high Communist period of China. While some appropriated these recognized symbols and imagery to demonstrate the head-on clash between consumerism and Communism or to embrace Mao as a cultural icon, Li Shan's appropriation of the ubiquitous imagery of Mao Zedong stands on its own for its distinct use of irony and taboo of sexuality in relation to politics.
The notion of 'red, light, bright' of the Cultural Revolution is transformed into an appropriation of a canonical image of Mao as a young and dashing radical in Untitled (Mao) (Lot 1305). The red background that is symbolic of the revolution as well as sensuality alludes to the layers of desire and projection that underpin a cult of personality. In Untitled (Lot 1306), Mao is depicted with a soft smile, with rouge on the cheeks, holding stylized lotus flower and a butterfly atop of a black halo that envelopes him. The portrait is not pure iconoclasm, as the adoption of gentle features, the lotus and hand gesture, are equally reminiscent of Buddhist imagery, to instill elements of religious iconicity, personable sensitivity and spiritual purity to the figure. While the subversive and transformative nature of rouge makeup underpins the subtle play between power, sex and cosmetic enhancement in both visual imagery and political ideologies. Toying with the idea of multi-layered ambiguities, Li's works are clever and coy reflections on the cultural circumstances of Mao's iconicity and power.