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Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Truth of History

I was with Professor Eric Hyer a couple of weeks ago presenting our film Masses To Masses: An Artist in Mao's China at the Asia Society in New York City. It was an intellectually savvy crowd--these were not people that had a casual interest in Chinese art and politics--but experts and collectors of the art. It struck me during the Q and A, debating whether or not the old lady folk artists of Shaanxi Province engaged in traditional paper cutting during the Cultural Revolution, that the truth frequently has many layers. It isn't to say that there are no hard facts, or universal truths, but that the level of observance is the real litmis test.

During the process of making Masses we read all the scholorarly work, looked up all the experts on our topic, generally tried to keep abreast of the big picture. However, focusing on our little corner of China, Yan'an in this case, the story more or less supported the larger published writings on the subject, but there were those differences. Differences I think that make our story unique, but at the same time, challenge some of the accepted truths about the time. I recall quizing the artists featured in the film about things they experienced that didn't quite fit with the accepted truths of the time and there was a shared belief that Yan'an, being far from the center (Beijing), it was freer. And within the small artist brigade itself, age made a difference in individual experience and perception of what it was like to live through such upheavel.

These disparities aren't to say that the larger published accounts aren't true or that the experiences of the artists in our film have no merit, but they do demonstrate a difference between, for lack of better words, tactical and strategic reality. It is worth taking a few minutes to write about because I have found this to be the case in almost all my work covering current wars and conflicts in places like Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and past events in China and elsewhere. It makes relating history challenging and worth it.


Blogger Jonh Neo said...

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6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:58 AM  

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