World historic figures: Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Fidel Castro, Huey P. Newton; Grace Lee Boggs, Lily Yeh, Elaine Brown | Serafina Harris (2021)
The Long March and Humanity’s Struggle for Freedom
Art Exhibition Framework
Grounding our commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China we showcase an art exhibition dedicated to the Long March. The Long March teaches us humanity’s spirit to strive and sacrifice in the name of freedom, and celebrates that it is the masses who make history. Upon this basis, we also seek to concretize the links between the Long March and the struggles of darker peoples around the world for freedom, self-determination and peace. As a testament to intercivilizational unity, we linked the revolutionary processes of the Long March to the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Afro-American freedom movement, the 1930 Salt March of the Indian independence movement, the 1961 Literacy Campaign of the Cuban Revolution, and the 1980s and 90s Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia.
The Long March consolidated the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and defined the spirit of brotherhood shared by the Long Marchers, leaders and soldiers alike. It was also the defining endeavor by which the party and the people became intertwined in ideals and trust. The journey was arduous, dangerous, and called for sacrifice from party members, the people, and government. The process to create a free China from poverty and war called for a total commitment to the transformation of the country to struggle against imperialism. To understand China over the past century and especially today, one must understand the achievements of the Chinese people and nation are due to the Communist Party of China. Thus we understand that the Communist Party of China is the people. The fact that China’s revolution in its process was transformative for the people, the party, and the state is a similar symptom to freedom struggles around the world.
We chose to feature photos and prints of revolutionary leaders to show that movements need leaders, but leaders, in turn, emerge from the transformative process of a revolution and therefore the revolutionary party is who earns the trust of and wins the people. We pay tribute to Mao Zedong and Zhu De of China, Mahatma Gandhi of India, Martin Luther King Jr. of Afro-America, and Fidel Castro of Cuba. These leaders are people who loved, sacrificed for and led human beings, each with particular, best-suited visions for their people against war and poverty.
As Baldwin wrote in his essay entitled “The Creative Process”, “The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and with that revelation, make freedom real.” We believe that art should serve the purpose of commemorating humanity’s traditions and histories. Art must also speak the truth and capture realities and ideas relevant for the people. Above all, art is a means to imagine new possibilities for the future, which is why we strive to concretize the ideas and visions that will move humanity forward. Thus, art couldn’t be more important in our time of crisis, amidst the collapse of the Western world order and the rise of a new world order with China at its helm.
As captured in Don Cravens’ photo, African American working people walked up to ten miles to work each day during the 381-day Montgomery bus boycotts, removing their cooperation with the unjust system of bus segregation, and gaining their moral authority to stand up against injustice. The eight-part Chinese scroll painting series depicts thousands of Chinese peasants and workers, led by the Communist Party of China who over 6,000 miles of snow-capped mountains, desolate grasslands, and battles for nearly two years to reach Yan’an depicts the struggle for a new democracy. Likewise, Walter Bosshard’s 1930 photos capture the Salt March, an act of nonviolent noncooperation of the British Empire and chokehold on Indian salt production, a 24-day 250-mile long journey to the salt marshes, where thousands of ordinary Indian people joined the march. Rosaylín Avilés’s photo of the 1961 Literacy Campaign shows young volunteer teachers who listened to Fidel’s call for sacrifice and left their lives of relative privilege in the cities to go to the most remote areas of Cuba and teach every single Cuban peasant to read. This is a testament to the transformative process in a revolution, where the hearts of human beings are touched and the people are able to see a new vision of their country from poverty and hardship.
Finally, in 1986 Chinese-born artist and professor Lily Yeh was invited by renowned African American dancer Arthur Hall of Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center to artistically revitalize vacant lots in North Philadelphia. The statues and murals created by the community’s children and Lily are a flowering of synthesis and transformation that grew from an 18-year collaboration between Lily, Hall, and the people and children of North Philadelphia to build the Village of Arts and Humanities. We celebrate the beauty and potential inherent in the working masses who participated in and sacrificed for these movements, like in Servando Cabrera Moreno’s Milicias campesinas or Jacob Lawrence’s From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north. Further, we see the beauty that comes from struggle. This proves what Zhu De of the CPC and Chinese Red Army once said, “the poor of the world are one big family.” The ‘mother ideal’ is important to the problem of poverty, and serves to uplift the self-esteem as well as to define the moral compass of a people. This symbol is shown in works like Amrita Sher-Gil’s Mother India, or Charles White’s I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned.
This moment of history is seeing a new world order. The ongoing moral and material rise of China presents possibilities of freedom for the rest of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The Saturday Free School looks toward the rise of China and the world’s darker peoples with optimism. The unity of the revolutionary processes of the 20th century proves that the world’s peoples are wrapped in a single garment of destiny, and its synthesis is dependent upon the common principles and traditions across all peoples of the world. It is from this basis in which we showcase the Long March as the basis of the Communist Party of China and its point of view that we see a new humanity emerge.
Grace Lee Boggs, Lily Yeh and Elaine Brown | Purba Chatterjee (2021)
Sketches from the Long March | Huang Zhen (1909-89). Pen and ink drawings. 1934-1935.
Huang Zhen was a Long Marcher, and later a significant CPC foreign diplomat and minister of culture, who documented the story of the Long March in the form of hundreds of ink sketches on any scrap of paper he could find — only 24 of these sketches survived. With a humanistic eye, the artist depicted the Red Army’s trekking, as well as the peasants they bonded with, through the inner provinces of China.
Photographs from The Long March: The Untold Story | Harrison Salisbury (1984)
American writer and diplomat Harrison Salisbury visited the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s and insisted upon retracing the Long March, documenting the journey and interviewing the villagers who had met the Long Marchers 40 years prior, during a time when few Americans even visited China, let alone those rural inner provinces through which the Long March passed through.
The arduous journey scroll series (万水千山屏) | 1961. Ying Yeping (应野平) and Wang Huanqing (汪欢清). Series of 8 posters. © Chineseposters.net
This series of prints was officially produced under the direction of the CPC in 1961 to commemorate the Long March. They illustrate the heroic, collective nature of the Long Marchers’ treks in the centuries old traditional Chinese landscape scroll painting style, as seen in the stacked mountain ranges, misty skylines, and the small human figures in relation to nature. The prints depict the eight following points: Ruijin, Zunyi, Jinsha, Luding Bridge, Snow Mountains, Grasslands, Lazikou, and the reunification of the Red Army.
The Red Army Crossing the Plains (红军过草地) | 1976-77. Zhang Wenyuan (张文源). Oil on canvas. © Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution
The most dangerous leg of the Long March was actually the grasslands — no human habitation, no real food, no clean water, just grass and marshes for hundreds of miles. In addition to the threat of starvation, Long Marchers could easily fall and drown in the waterways, if not careful. Yet this painting by Zhang Wenyuan, depicts this part of the journey with a certain dignity and determination, with one Marcher reaching down, perhaps to pick some grass to nibble on, or perhaps a flower to admire.
Revolutionary Ideals Higher than Heaven (革命理想高于天) | 1976. Shen Yaoyi (沈尧伊). Oil on canvas.
Shen Yaoyi set out to retrace the Long March in 1975 over the span of 3 months (not unlike Harrison Salisbury’s retracing of the Long March 10 years later as the first foreigner to do so), and has returned to the subject throughout his long artistic career. This work of Mao leading a discussion around a campfire along the Long March demonstrates the ongoing political training and ideological consolidation around the ideals of the Communist Party of China, necessary for building a new China after the conclusion of the march.
From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north | 1940–41. Jacob Lawrence. Casein tempera on hardboard.
Norman Lewis (1909-1979), Title Unknown (March on Washington), 1965, oil on fiberboard, 35 1/4 x 47 1/2 inches | Collection of L. Ann and Jonathan P. Binstock; © Estate of Norman Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
I’ve been to the Mountaintop | 1968. Romare Bearden (1911-88). Screenprint.
In this print of a Black pastor addressing his congregation against a background of blue stacked mountains, Bearden references Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon the day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop. In the speech, King says, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land…I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
African Americans walk to work instead of riding the bus during the third month of an eventual 381-day bus boycott, Montgomery, Alabama, February 1956 | Photo by Don Cravens, © International Center of Photography
This photo captures the masses of Black Montgomerians walking in dignity rather than riding a bus in shame, as part of the movement led by 27-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. The 371 day movement overcame all kinds of obstacles and attacks, but ultimately, the boycott proved that principles of nonviolence and Christian love could serve as the foundation for a revolution of values for not only Montgomery, Alabama but also America as a whole.
I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned | 1956. Charles White (1918-79), Charcoal and graphite on paper.
Charles White captures the sheer beauty and dignity of this woman, inherent in all working people, through and because of her weathered hands, radiant wrinkled face, and plain clothes against a simple wooden cabin. The title comes from a famous African-American hymn of the same name. White was said to have learned from his Mississippi-born mother, herself the granddaughter of an enslaved woman, “to see how much the peace and human dignity of the world will be protected and won by the simple, ordinary people.”
Mother India | 1935. Amrita Sher-Gil. Oil on canvas. © email@example.com
Amrita Sher-Gil was a Hungarian-Indian painter, originally raised in Europe and trained in academic Western painting and modernist styles – but ultimately settled in India in her 30s, where she drew heavily from Indian miniature painting traditions and sought to depict the Indian peasantry. Here, in earthly tones, she illustrates the Indian mother ideal in this scene with a mother, with piercing mournful eyes, and two children at her side.
Gandhi’s followers pick up salt by the river, near Navsari, India | 1930. Photo by Walter Bosshard.
Walter Bosshard (1892 – 1975) was a principled Swiss journalist who is remembered for pioneering photojournalism, traveling across Asia and photographing both Mao in Yan’an and Gandhi during the Salt March along the way. Here his photo depicts volunteers on the move near a river, as part of the Salt March of 1930, led by Gandhi as a nonviolent protest against decades of British colonialism’s attack on Indian civilization and society, where he deploying satyagraha, truth force, as a means of resistance, and laying the groundwork for the Indian independence struggle later. This was just a few years before the Long March in China.
Milicias campesinas | 1961. Servando Cabrera Moreno (1923-81), oil on canvas.
Servando Cabrera Moreno was a celebrated Cuban artist and supporter of the Revolution, portraying the masses of Cuban peasants. In this work, the peasantry are rising up, organizing, and picking up machetes and arms against centuries of underdevelopment, poverty, and illiteracy under Spanish and American colonialism, as the revolutionary vanguard of the liberation struggle for true democracy.
The 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign was one of the most significant initiatives of the Cuban revolutionary government, seeking to foster unity and revolutionary consciousness among urban populations (especially young students) and the rural peasantry, who had been trapped in cycles of poverty, exploitation, and lack of education for centuries under Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. Here, members of the literacy brigades, of which a significant proportion were young women, are dressed in uniforms, hold up literacy textbooks, and carry lamps to teach their students during nights in the countryside.
The Village of Arts and Humanities | Lily Yeh and the community of North Philadelphia, 1980s
The Long March | Max Roach and Archie Shepp (1979)
Far East Suite | Duke Ellington (1966)
Force | Max Roach & Archie Shepp (1976)
Eastern Sounds | Yusuf Lateef (1961)