By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Chinese master paper cutter, Xiyadie (pronounced Zhee-yá-dee), has been exhibiting his work, The Metamorphosis of a Butterfly: A kaleidoscopic vision of life by a gay Chinese artist at Flazh!Alley Art Studio in San Pedro, in conjunction with The Center Long Beach.
Consisting of more than 50 works, Butterfly celebrates the artist’s his family and same-sex life transcending discrimination and social stigma in China. His work will remain on display through July 14.
To the naked eye, Xiyadie simply marries the traditional Chinese art of paper cutting with same-sex erotica. But hidden in the intricate patterns of the cutouts is his story detailing his struggles as a gay, married father of a son with cerebral palsy.
“(My art is about) living and feeling,” Xiyadie said through his interpreter, Alan Quach. “My feeling with my living is different because I have a lot of pain and suffering in my past, so that is why I have stronger feeling to express my art.”
In Chinese, Xiyadie means Siberian butterfly. He chose that pseudonym to mask his identity. It is a symbol analogous to the freezing winds that blow from Siberia.
His collections detailing aspects of his personal story made from red paper cutouts illustrate his love for his family, his challenges and his dreams for them.
“Joy 14,” an intricately cut example of the family series depicts the interaction between the artist’s mother and son, both of whom are ill. His son, who only can move his foot, massages his grandmother’s legs to relieve her pain.
In “Letter,” Xiyadie displays how his son’s sister reads a letter from their mother and love of the mother pours through the paper, and moves the dog and bird.
Paper cutting originated in Eastern Han Dynasty of China between 25 and 220 A.D., which has been passed down from generation to generation.
Xiyadie grew up poor in the Shen xi Province of China and his family were farmers skilled in the art of paper cutting–skill handed down though several generations in his family. At 16 years old he followed in their footsteps, albeit with a spin of his own. In the beginning, it was just something he did for fun.
It wasn’t until after he was married, at the age of 26, that he began to recognize his homosexuality. He had same-sex encounters in his teenage years, but he hadn’t associated them with being gay. As with other gay men of his culture, his traditional upbringing dictated that he would marry and have children. It wasn’t until he moved to Beijing that he fully began to accept his sexuality.
“Before I came to Beijing I had a lot pain,”he said. “I tried to change myself to not be a gay person, but I couldn’t. In my mind, gay life is beautiful, so I cannot put it [out of] my mind.”
Xiyadie depicts this struggle in many of his art pieces, such as “The Door” series, which deploys color cut-outs depicting nature and red doors to convey the narrative of his male-on-male desire and the beauty and pain of his coming out process.
Other works go deeper into his family life, dreams and pain.
“Joy 18,” a red-paper cutout, explains his and his wife’s decision to stay together for the sake of keeping the family together. The cutout depicts Xiyadie lost in a war with his wife ready to leave, but not before encountering his son, who buries his head on Xiyadie chest crying.
The “Vase” is a symbol of peace and prosperity. It he shows an androgynous couple copulating. The head of one of those two people extends outside of the vase and spews beautiful flowers from several stems that touch a centerpiece on top of the figure’s head, the symbol of the happiness of marriage. It is this sense of empowerment and harmony that he’s been able extract through his artwork.
“Cutting this thing I have to have a lot of imagination,” he said. “Through my imagination, I am the creator; I’m the king. So, cutting paper is not cutting my skin, cutting my body, it’s cutting paper.
“I can do whatever I want. I create the whole work… That’s why in my product, you always see a lot of nature like birds, trees, flowers; all connect from nature.”
In China, authorities largely turn a blind eye to homosexuality as long as it is not obvious. His work would be confiscated if they were to be displayed without proper permits. Although it is has not been illegal to be homosexual since 1997, it also is not encouraged by authorities to live an openly gay life.
Authorities are known to shut down events and establishments that are perceived to promote homosexuality, even if there is almost underground-like activities such as gay nightclubs. As with most places in the world, small towns are more conservative and more heavily censored. His work is, thus, not able to publicly be displayed in China.
Freedom is more a matter of connections and a matter of whom you know in China, he said. For example in Beijing, people seem to be more open to homosexuality, as long as criminal acts do not take place. His work has been displayed in gay and lesbian festival in Beijing.
“I don’t care whether it is private or public,” he said. “I do these things for myself… I lived in Beijing for 8 years, I don’t have television, radio. I don’t know what’s going on outside with the politicians. I just do my art work … I never complain about government because I don’t have experience with government.”
Although Xiyadie is not concerned with pushing any social or political messages, he’s glad he’s impacted the lives of others. Like his Siberian namesake, Xiyadie revels in his freedom of expression even under severe cold climates, where it must rise against adversity.
“When I do my product, I don’t think about what people want, what people need, what people enjoy, what people think about it; I don’t care,” he said. “I just care about what I want. I just, like a butterfly, fly everywhere I want to go.
“If I think about what people like, what people want, what people enjoy, my art has a limit; it doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to other people.”
Flazh!Alley Art Studio will be open by appointment and with a special Pride schedule:
7 to 10 p.m. June 8
12 to 6 p.m. June 9
2 to 6 p.m. June 20
Details: (310) 833-3633
Venue: Flazh!Alley Art Studio
Location: 1113 Pacific Ave., Long Beach