Miss Mao

Arts Education, Language Arts, Social Studies

Sculpture Title:

Miss Mao


Learning Lens:

Approaches to Learning


Curriculum Access:

Arts, Social Justice, Socials Studies, and Language Arts



Public Art as a Forum for Discussion


Guiding Question:

How Can Art Challenge Thought?


Strategies and Approaches:

Inquiry, prompting, interviewing, information gathering


Background for Students:

The Gao Brothers’ politically dissident artwork has made them blacklisted in China. Though their work is exhibited outside of China it has never been publicly displayed in China. This controversial, super-sized stainless steel sculpture is part of a Miss Mao series produced by the Gao Brothers. This sculpture features two iconic figures in shiny polished stainless steel, a diminutive Miss Mao delicately balancing on the head of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary whose monumental ideas of Socialism profoundly influenced Chinese political history. This sculpture can be ‘read’ as a political narrative, as well as a reflection on the current nostalgic attitude toward Mao and the past. The position and scale of the two figures simultaneously questions and ridicules their relative positions in an undeniable communist commentary.


Informal Assessment:

Have students brainstorm the communities and societies that have been impacted by the two historical figures: Lenin and Mao. How did they impact Vancouver and Canada?


Curricular Challenge:

15-20 mins, Open/Reflect: Welcoming Multiple Interpretations

  1. Students are encouraged to disengage from their recent experience and their busy surroundings to practice mindfulness.
  2. Direct students to ‘mindfully’ (quietly/individually) explore the piece and develop their own interpretation. More information on mindfulness for the classroom can be found here.
  3. Direct each student to share their interpretation of the piece without judgement.
  4. Connect students’ individual interpretations to the background information provided above.

30 mins, Challenge:

  1. Have groups of two interview their partner on first impressions of the artwork and then present partners first impressions to group.
  2. In small groups brainstorm two or three social or political reactions to the sculpture. After brainstorming reactions, attach countries, groups, people to each response (ie: Tibetan people may view Mao and his ideas as destructive to their culture/Russian people may view Lenin as a liberator of Czarist oppression). To each reaction, identify people or groups who would commonly hold that thought. As a third step, attach time and space to each reaction/group and note the impact (Mao is now viewed with nostalgia/communism has lost the threat of the cold war).
  3. From the vantage point of detached reflection, have the students discuss the different impact on individuals and cultures that these historical figures had and continue to have.

Debrief: In approaches to learning there are unlimited ways of viewing and responding to any item. How can you now see this work of art and its political message through multiple perspectives?