The Harmonious Society

I think of Superman as the ultimate vanilla hero.He’s this perfect refugee, this perfect immigrant from another planet who embodies the American dream.

In his latest series The Harmonious Society, Chinese artist Jacky Tsai uses comic book heroes to make heavily allegorical artworks reflecting on China’s industrial rise and the declining dominance of the west. He combines traditional Chinese painting techniques with references to western Pop Art styles. His subjects are also a playful juxtaposition of western and eastern iconographies, such as superheros like Superman, Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman, and Chinese mythological figures like the Yellow Emperor, the Monkey King and Chang E as well as court ladies, set in ancient Chinese palaces and gardens. The results are satirical and at times, very biting, in reflecting cultural clashes that include Orientalism (sexual and gender politics), white and colonialist privilege, and paranoia on both sides including the increased paranoia of China overtaking the west as a global superpower.

Tsai’s images are made with the 3,000-year-old technique of lacquer carving, where the image is engraved on a wooden panel and then layers of lacquer applied to it. It’s fascinating, and a little jarring at first, to see the likes of Superman and Captain America transposed in these traditional renditions of Chinese culture.

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