oil on canvas
300 x 225 cm
A victorious athlete garlanded by an enormous wreath holds aloft a bouquet of flowers and a gigantic trophy in triumph. She is crowned by both a tiara and a halo, as if she is a saint (or martyr) in a Renaissance painting. Xu Xiaoguo found the image on the cover of a North Korean magazine at a second-hand bookstall; the photograph intrigued him as it made him think about relationships between universal ideas of success and differing ideologies and personal belief systems. Chinese characters across her face record the artist’s thoughts when he saw the original photograph: 正路， 骑着飞驰的骏马奔腾在辽阔的天边 (‘The correct path, riding a dashing horse that gallops into the boundless horizon.’) In a North Korean context, the image alludes to the success and triumph of the regime, and the title also references common socialist slogans during the Mao era in China. ¬But the artist says he was not thinking of propaganda images, but rather about how success is judged and rewarded at different times and in different cultural contexts. Interestingly, though, this work is part of a series that he based on imagery from old Soviet and North Korean magazines – he was thinking about how visual culture had been pressed into serving the apparatus of the state: ‘Who are our heroes?’ he asks.