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Drawn History: A Look Inside 'Shanghai Illustration 1900 - 1999'
By Jan 4, 2018 Arts
The 20th century was full of fascinating moments in Shanghai's storied heritage in illustration. Not only was China's booming industry of hand-drawn commercials and propaganda at its height, but we also saw increasing global influence merging with and affecting Chinese illustrative art at the bookends of this tumultuous century.

Cultural and government forces, changing social norms and values, and the rapid rise of technologies in the 20th century can all be traced in the fascinating trajectory of Shanghai illustration in the years 1900 to 1999. The Xuhui Art Museum in the city's center has a great exhibition corralling all these interesting moments in ink and print. You should check that out.

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Shanghai Illustration 1900 - 1999 is a part of a long-term series of exhibitions "Design & Life", currently in its fourth iteration. The idea is to explore the roots and the relationship between Shanghai's local culture and the creative design of daily objects. They're offering a more populist, less academic view on the subject. It's very approachable. (And it's always free entry.)

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Shanghai View Studio (上海风景工作室) is the mastermind behind this project. They've been curating the exhibitions and have already published several books on the topics. For this edition, the team spent over two years gathering 200 pieces of artwork and objects, and are presenting them chronologically on the first and second floor of the museum.

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What is on display ranges from publications, posters, and packaging, to actual physical objects like home-ware and toys, presenting a fuller idea of how hand-drawn illustration was applied to basically all aspects of life. Back in the day, illustration was ubiquitous.

One set of items I found particularity interesting was the educational glass slides that were handed out back in 1956, providing tips on how to avoid pregnancy (in a PG-13 way, of course). They reflect a pretty notable period, when Mao publicly encouraged birth control and the first time oral contraceptive pills entered the market.

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There's a lot of fun stuff worth digging into, from items that encapsulate daily life to material that addresses noteworthy historical events. Of course, today, with the advent of computers, cameras, and digital technology, illustration figures less into our daily lives than it once did. Still, it's nice to take this opportunity to experience and engage with Shanghai's history as directly filtered through a human hand.

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Shanghai Illustration 1900 - 1999 runs until January 21, opens every day from 9pm to 5pm except Mondays. Free entry.

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