Though his name is unfamiliar to many, Sha Fei’s legacy is second to few. His photography is unique in it’s ability to blend art, historical documentation and propaganda. Fei’s work stands today as an important and remarkable record of war and the spread of socialism in China during the 1930s and ‘40s.
After years of conflict, Japan and China began fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War in July 1937. Following the breakout of war, many Chinese youths headed to the front lines in North China. Among them was Sha Fei.
Fei was later recruited as a war photographer, accompanying the Communist Party of China’s Eighth Route Army.
The resulting images are an iconic view of Chinese soldiers as they resist Japanese invasion. His photographs depict the soldiers’ heroism and bravery on the front lines of war.
Fei’s wartime photography also includes images of the Chinese Communist Party’s spread in rural China. Important historical documents today, Fei’s photos were equally important at the time they were being taken.
His images were a tool to mobilize the Chinese for war, and to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s socialist values. They depict real-life situations which exemplify the ideals of the Chinese military and the Chinese Communist Party.
In an e-mail, Ohio State doctorate student and curator of the Sha Fei exhibit, Eliza Ho, explained the balance Fei found between documentation and promotion.
“Although his photographs became increasingly ideological, they are not tainted with falsifications.” Ho said.
As part of her dissertation on Sha Fei, Ho traveled to Chinese libraries and museums conducting research in several cities across the country. Ho was also able to contact members of Sha Fei’s family.
Fei’s daughter, Wang Yan, was particularly instrumental in aiding Ho’s research. “I met Wang in 2007 and since then she has been very supportive of my research,” said Ho, “Wang has helped open doors for me on many occasions.”
A selection of Sha Fei’s photography is on exhibit at the OSU Urban Arts Space. The exhibition will feature photographs produced from digital scans of the originals, and from negatives provided by Wang Yan. Fei’s work will be presented chronologically and is to cover his work as an artist, wartime photojournalist and propagandist.
The exhibition, “Art, Documentary, and Propaganda in Wartime China: The Photography of Sha Fei,” marks the first time Fei’s work will be shown in the United States.
“Its really exciting for us to be able to bring to Ohio State and the central Ohio community this exhibition that’s never been shown in the United States,” said deputy director of the OSU Urban Arts Space Kelly Stevelt.
The exhibition of Sha Fei’s photography will be open from Jan. 19 through March 27 at the OSU Urban Arts Space, located in downtown Columbus at 50 W. Town St. A free public reception will be held on Friday, Feb. 26 from 5 to 7 p.m.