Liu Xia: METAPHORMS
JANUARY 21 – APRIL 8, 2022
One thing needs to be addressed before we can approach the photographs of Liu Xia, since it has overshadowed her existence and imposed itself onto her work. Liu Xia’s husband, Liu Xiaobo was the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner who died while in custody in China, in 2017. Liu Xiaobo was incarcerated multiple times; for taking a lead role in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and, beginning in 2008, for writing and disseminating the reformist document, Charter 08. Although never charged with a crime herself, Liu Xia was held under house arrest and surveillance from 2010 until 2018, when her emigration to Germany was made possible. Because of these events, her unfaltering support for Liu Xiaobo, and the duress she experienced, the world has placed Liu Xia in the position of “political” or “dissident” artist.
While the photographs in METAPHORMS are inextricably tied to the conditions of their creation, Liu Xia would have preferred a different course for her life and work. But Liu Xia used what was at her disposal to make sense of that life, even at its most tenuous moments and while its traumas remained raw. It was only through the process of creating her work – her poetry, her painting, her photographs – that Liu Xia felt there was a chance to manage the claustrophobic oppression and Kafkaesque absurdity of her situation, as well as her metastasizing feelings of loss, anger, and grief.
Liu Xia was not trained as a photographer; she was known primarily as a writer, poet, and painter. But during her confinement and while under surveillance, she began to arrange and photograph tableaux – often staged in her bedroom – involving dolls she had been given by a friend, which she called “ugly babies.” These allegorical compositions with their disturbingly expressive figures allow the viewer access to the oppression, separation and isolation Liu Xia and Liu Xiaobo endured. These images also astonishingly eluded the censors; Liu Xia found she could use these photographs to communicate wordlessly but directly with Liu Xiaobo while he was imprisoned.
In other photos, cropped, abstracted folds of fabric, balls of foil, and landscapes taken during rare intervals between forced seclusions, open up and extend Liu Xia’s metaphoric vision, echoing the registers of her poetry. The landscapes in particular provide release from the confinement expressed in the other images. Seemingly wedged between the groups of photographs represented in METAFORMS (Ugly Babies; 1996-99, Silk Series, 2004-05; Lonely Planets 2014-15), Liu Xia’s views of rocks, trees, snow, sky and growth break through like a sense of possibility.
Liu Xia has exhibited her photographs most recently at Galerie im Tempelhof Museum (Berlin, 2020), and Galerie Peter Sillem (Frankfurt, 2019). Previously, she has shown her work at the Martin Gropius Bau (Berlin, 2015), and the exhibition Silent Strength of Liu Xia traveled internationally in 2011-13. Liu Xia has also published a book of poetry, Empty Chairs (2015).
Curated by Paul Bright, in collaboration with the artist, Peter Sillem Gallery (Frankfurt), and with contributions from Jim Glanzer (NYC)