Xiyadie: Queer Cut Utopias is the first New York solo exhibition of work by Chinese artist Xiyadie. The name Xiyadie, which translates to Siberian Butterfly, is one the artist chose for himself to describe his upbringing in Weinan, a city in the Shaanxi Province of Northwest China. A reflection of his personal and artistic evolution, the pseudonym also denotes Xiyadie’s enduring resilience despite the fact that he has never been able to freely show his work or live openly with regard to his sexual orientation. Queer Cut Utopias features more than thirty of Xiyadie’s intricate paper-cuts, dating from the early 1980s through today, each of which articulates his longing to fully express his queer desire. Xiyadie presents a strong sense of artistic autonomy; his highly graphic works on paper fuse traditional folk forms and iconography with narratives from his personal life.
Xiyadie was born in a region of northwest China known for being the center of the ancient art of paper-cutting, one of the oldest and most popular folk arts in China. Largely reserved for women, the practice of paper-cutting is primarily used to create decorations for windows and doorways. With subjects ranging from customs and religion to seasonal landscapes and legends, traditional paper-cuts are said to bring prosperity and fortune into the households that display them. Using the relatively accessible materials of rice paper, scissors, and ink, mastery of the art nevertheless requires a high-level of craftsmanship, dexterity, and imagination.
Xiyadie’s singular artistic language originated in the more traditional techniques of paper-cutting, a skill he learned from his mother at a very young age. This expertise allowed the artist to develop intricate compositions that embrace the ancient art form while subverting it with defiant yet joyful expressions of individualism. The works on view in Queer Cut Utopias depict duos and trios of male lovers entangled in acts of queer eroticism that are based on the artist’s own experiences and fantasies. These vignettes are also populated with more traditional Chinese symbols and decorative imagery as a means of symbolically integrating and normalizing queer narratives. Recurring motifs include doors, walls, and caves, which allude to the artist’s concealed identity as a gay man while maintaining his role and duties as a father of two children who is married to a woman.
Xiyadie is the first known Chinese paper-cut artist to publicly depart from the Chinese folk-art context as well as the only paper-cutting artist in mainland China to engage with queer themes. Since the 1980s, he has deployed traditional techniques to articulate, destigmatize, and celebrate queerness. “This is my stage. Here I can dance with abandon, I can give free rein to my thoughts, I can live out my fantasies,” the artist has explained referring to his medium. “Here, I can fly to the moon, I can become a butterfly, I can love, and I can hate. This is the place where I can be free.”
Organized by Rosario Güiraldes, Associate Curator.
Join The Drawing Center’s Associate Curator Rosario Güiraldes and Tate’s Adjunct Curator of Greater China Hera Chan for a conversation presented in conjunction with the exhibition Xiyadie: Queer Cut Utopias. Xiyadie is the first known Chinese paper-cut artist to publicly depart from the Chinese folk-art context as well as the only paper-cutting artist in mainland China to engage with queer themes. Since the 1980s, he has deployed traditional techniques to articulate, destigmatize, and celebrate queerness. Güiraldes and Chan will discuss the evolution of Xiyadie’s personal and artistic expression within the context of China, and his unique fusion of traditional folk forms and iconography with narratives from his personal life.
Hera Chan is a curator and writer based in Amsterdam by way of Hong Kong, and a longtime friend and collaborator of Xiyadie. She is Adjunct Curator of Greater China, Supported by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, at Tate. Her work engages with performative infrastructures such as elections—as co-producer of KomBIJ1 TV, a political talk show aired in the Netherlands the occupied Dutch Antilles leading up to the Dutch parliamentary elections of 2021, pageantry—as co-founder and curator of platform Miss Ruthless International in Hong Kong, and diasporic networks—as founding director of para-institution Atelier Céladon in Montreal. She was a grantee of The Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant in 2022 with a focus on the militant image after the uprisings of the Milk Tea Alliance between 2019 and 2021.