Xiyadie’s Papercut Love Letters

Xiyadie Missing 2007 27 x 27 2 cm s
Xiyadie, “Missing” (2007), papercut on colored Xuan paper, 10 3/5 x 10 3/5 inches (all images courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery)

HONG KONG — Beauty, desire, metamorphosis — the symbolism of the butterfly was not lost on the Chinese artist Xiyadie when he chose “Siberian Butterfly” as his pseudonym. At Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery, Butterfly Dream, the artist’s most comprehensive solo show to date, registers how his multifaceted identity as a father, gay man, farmer, and migrant worker has galvanized his practice.

One of the earliest pieces on view, “Train” (1985–86), was produced long before Xiyadie began exhibiting his homoerotic works in the early 2010s. Echoing the furtive nature of his artmaking at the time, the intricate freehand papercut depicts a tryst between the artist and a train attendant. Adorned with snaking tendrils, the figures’ legs morph into the coupling rods of the locomotive to evoke the churning rhythm of their lovemaking. A white rabbit and golden monkey — auspicious animals in Chinese folklore — seem to bless the union from opposite corners of the composition. 

Another clandestine meeting takes place in “Sorting Sweet Potatoes” (2019), which alludes to the artist’s rural-agrarian origins in Shaanxi Province. Two lovers are shown hiding in a cellar, one turning back to glance at an oblivious farmer in the upper left-hand corner. The sense of secrecy is compounded by the claustrophobic framing of the pair, who are enclosed by bricks, baskets, and mounds of sweet potatoes.

Yet desire is sometimes tempered by shame. Heart-breaking works such as “Sewn” (1999) — in which the artist is portrayed suturing his bloodied genitalia while gazing at a photo of his male lover — reveal his struggles as a gay man wrestling with the conservative sexual mores of Chinese society. This is further allegorized as a conflict between nature and traditional architecture: The sinuous stems and pink flora that decorate the subject’s body in “Sewn” counter the rigidity of the brick wall, brass-laden door, and tiled roof that surround him. 

These large-scale works are accompanied by smaller pieces less than a square foot in size. “Missing” (2007), a monochromatic composition cut from scarlet paper, conveys Xiyadie’s homesickness when he moved to Beijing to take a job as a security guard, leaving his family behind. In this work, his wife is shown feeding his son beneath a canopy of leaves. The artist’s separation from his family is simply yet poignantly captured through the rendering of his own body as a distant silhouette, recognizable only by the peaked cap of his uniform.

Butterfly Dream speaks eloquently of the artist’s loves and losses, his public burdens and private desires. There is hope, too, seen in images of elaborately entwined bodies that are each titled “Joy.” One of these, from 2005, is a near-symmetrical composition of kissing figures whose legs conjoin into a spiral, suggesting the reconciliation of two halves. Cherry blossoms, birds, and circular charms radiate from the central figures — a simple vision of harmony, fortune, and love.

Xiyadie: Butterfly Dream continues at Blindspot Gallery (15/F, Po Chai Industrial Building, 28 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang) through May 18.

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