This fall the Libraries are excited to present Forbidden Stories: Installation and Photographs by Xiaoze Xie, on view in Skillman Library from September 13 through January 2020. A native of Guangdong Province, China, artist Xiaoze Xie is the Wattis Professor of Art at Stanford University. Most recognized for his photorealist paintings, Xie’s work has evolved to include photography, sculpture and video exploring themes of censorship, social memory and political discourse. He has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and his work is represented in several prestigious private and public art collections. A companion exhibit of Xie’s work, Objects of Evidence will show concurrently at the Asia Society in New York City.
The Skillman exhibit draws on Xie’s work from his sweeping project entitled Forbidden Memories: Tracing Banned Books in China. “Books are a recurring subject in my work,” Xie writes. “I have been interested in books as a material form of memory, history and ideology, and fascinated by what people do to books.” His work has involved extensive research on book banning in China, throughout which he has amassed personal collections of once-banned titles and documented banned books in library collections through his photography. On display in Skillman are selections from Xie’s series of photographs of ancient banned books, depicting texts open to specifically selected pages with a metal ruler present under the open book, “as if to ‘measure’ (thus to judge) the book,” Xie says, and documenting evidence of ownership, reading and interaction such as marginalia and library labels. The photographs displayed in Skillman feature pages from classic works of literature and works on philosophy, history and politics, illuminating subjects once deemed mysterious, inappropriate or subversive. Alongside the photographs Skillman also displays Xie’s evocative The Queen’s College Library at the University of Oxford, one of his Library Series of paintings which invite us to scrutinize library shelves, admiring their contents and questioning the ways books are preserved and used.
The Skillman exhibit also utilizes the Library’s display cases to highlight Xie’s personal collections of modern banned books from China. Built with painstaking care, Xie’s book collections serve “as objects of historical evidence,” Xie writes, “and extend the investigation from ancient times reflected in the photographs to more recent history and the present.” For the Skillman exhibit Xie’s banned book collections are complemented for the first time by a selection of Western banned books. Drawn from the Lafayette Libraries’ Special Collections, the Western books create contrasts among the varying ways that books may be banned or restricted in different cultures and under different political systems. Among the Skillman banned books are many first editions from our collections, with the work of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, whose Beloved, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye are among the most frequently banned or challenged books in the U.S., featuring prominently.