Text JF. Pierets Artwork Xiyadie
Paper-cuts originated in Eastern Han Dynasty China (AD 25-220) and are hung on windows or doors for good luck. But instead of the usual decorative flowers and birds, Xiyadie, whose pseudonym means ‘Siberian Butterfly’, portrays graphic and daring depictions of homosexual love — long considered taboo in China: “I was 17 in the 1980’s when I learned the folk art of paper-cutting from my mother. And I kept learning traditional Chinese folk art until I was 20.”
During that time he acquired the art craft of expressing happiness and blessings through traditional symbols, such as ‘Jixiangruyi ‘(to be lucky and achieve what you’ve hoped for), ‘Fuguipingan’ (wealthy and peaceful)’, ‘Wufuzhushou’ (Wishing you long live with five happiness), ‘Jiyumantang’ (may gold and jade fill your house), ‘Madaochenggong’ (wish you every success), etc.’
The traditional Chinese folk art of paper cutting is not usually used to depict sexually explicit homoerotic images, but Xiyadie found a means of self-expression for his sexuality in the 1400-year-old art form: “I have a pretty stubborn personality. I always tend to express beauty in the way I imagine it, the composition and content a piece should have. Which is the reason I used to be criticized quite a lot by my teachers when I was an apprentice. They say I’m ‘riding a donkey backwards’. But there were a few teachers who encouraged me, commenting that my work was something new, and that I endeavor to express scenes different from traditional ones.
In my opinion I have been improving as an artist. But in the meantime I do keep those traditional paper-cutting techniques that I feel is the essence of my art. I use the yin and yang spaces in a piece to add in symbols of flowers and birds, which bears traditional meanings of blessing. And of course these inspiration blooms from my life, imagination and hopes.”
‘My work is changing constantly, and so is the state of life I try to pursue.’
The artist manages to cut out provocative scenes that make viewers take a second look just to make sure they’re seeing right. Gallery owner Joe Flazh – who brought Xiyadie’s work to art space Flazh!Alley in San Pedro, California – has been overwhelmed by positive reactions: “Xiyadie touched on emotions that are deeper than sexual orientation. Xiyadie addresses subjects that are relevant to the LGBT community, but also to any person, gay or heterosexual, male or female and parents.”
The artist himself feels wonderful about it: “American people see my work and understand my deepest intentions. The hugs and kisses from my audience makes me feel most welcomed. I love the bold, friendly way American folks express themselves. My paper-cutting has the same boldness in it.”
Like many gay Chinese men, Xiyadie is a married father living in Beijing with a son and a daughter. Both still have no clue as to their father’s true sexual orientation: “For people living in underdeveloped rural areas, it is hard to even imagine being gay. In bigger cities, capital of provinces or above, life could be easier. I personally feel Beijing to be the best place, where the gay community is strong and active. And the city being very tolerant towards our community is one of the reasons I love living here. The gay erotica that my work portrays still remains unacceptable for main stream media.
I hate that China is so dominanted by traditional doctrines, but on the other hand, this is the cultural earth and water that nourished my creativity. My work is changing constantly, and so is the state of life I try to pursue. Immigrating would be a wonderful option for me but I do what I can.”
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