China's propaganda posters used to depict idyllic landscapes and rustic villages, but today's scenery resembles something far different. To imagine what modern Chinese propaganda would look like, two British artists commissioned a North Korean group that once made propaganda for their own state, creating a series of paintings that are a mix between eerie dystopias and picturesque scenes pocked by an unsettling feeling. The works are part of a long-running and ongoing series called The Beautiful Future, and they recently finished a showing in Beijing.
Though many of the paintings prominently feature stadiums made for the 2008 Olympic games in China, the British artists — Nick Bonner and Dominic Johnson-Hill — began work before the buildings had been made, reports the Guardian. That required the artists to send detailed sketches and renderings of the buildings' plans to the painters in North Korea so that they could be properly rendered for their propaganda-style posters. "The artists are ... painting things they've never seen before ... which gives the images an even more unreal, dreamlike quality,” Bonner tells the Guardian. "We wanted to show contemporary China as it could have been, if it had continued with Maoist ideology."
(Above: 'Birds Nest, Home of the People'. A flock of fans rush toward the Beijing National Stadium. Behind them, factories spew waste into the air.)
- 'Glorious CCTV Tower'. That twisting building isn't just a work of geometric modern art, it's the headquarters for China's state-run television service, CCTV.
- 'Water Cube for Clean Air and Healthy Life'. The Beijing National Aquatics Center — better known as the Water Cube — was built for the 2008 Olympics along with the Beijing National Stadium (pictured in the opening image). In front of the Water Cube, men, women, and children play in its spraying jets.
- 'City Migration'. People march into a space shuttle amid a colorful, futuristic city.
- 'KTV Gives Us a Voice'. Soldiers in old People's Liberation Army uniforms sing at a karaoke bar. The painting's title seems to imply that the soldiers have no voice outside of the KTV bar.
- 'Office Culture for Prosperity'. Rather than depicting workers happy to be performing demanding physical labor, the artists imagine what such propaganda would look like for the white-collar worker.
- 'Disco Night to Enhance the Day'. Conservatively dressed men and women enjoy a more modern nightlife.
- 'CCTV Tower with Bountiful Harvest'. China's CCTV headquarters appears again, this time looming over a city as soldiers and farmers look on in excitement.
All images printed with permission of the artists.