Thursday, April 16, 2009

David Diao: "I lived there until I was 6 ..."



AFTER enthusiastically kicking off this blog, I'll admit the Manhattan winter bailed me up just outside the front door. Fortunately, the artsy mayhem begins as soon as I make it past the pooping chichuahuas and preening Sharpeis ...

The first of these galleries is Postmasters which featured a very personal show by David Diao. The site features a concise roundup of his show entitled "I lived there until I was 6".

From the Postmasters press release:

David Diao left his home in China under extreme circumstances 59 years ago at the moment of the Communist takeover. The property was confiscated and made into the offices of the "Sichuan Daily." By the time of his first visit back 30 years later, the house had been demolished. For years Diao has sought to render his charged feelings about this loss into a group of paintings ...

Essayist Philip Tinari writes: Using his memory and those of his assorted aunts and uncles, and calibrated by the fixed dimensions of the tennis court that was the house's special feature, he conjectured his former reality back into existence ...

I found this show both entrancing and disquieting. Staring from the opening canvas near the front door, the story unfolds by gradually 'zooming in' on the coordinates of his former home, starting from this stylized map of China with a single red dot marking his hometown in Chengdau.



Different houseplans, scribbled as if on a napkin over a bowl of fish ball soup, plus vignettes of tennis balls, a leaf that might have wafted onto the tennis court, and the court itself, gives the sense you are journeying with him as he searches his memory banks and imagination to re-construct his childhood abode.






The tennis court is particularly tantalizing. It suggests a sense of relaxation and play in an otherwise subdued, almost somber upbringing. Yet its linearity and restraint stops the memoir from being too playful, joyous, too ... un-Chinese (it takes one to know one).




Although I have never been to China, I felt strangely related to the work on display. It's the same feeling I get when I wander into Chinatown - a comforting anonymity, and sense of belonging, regardless of whether you read Chinese or not. Perhaps Diao, despite being a fully-vested transplant like me, is seeking to fill that void that almost all ethnic minorities experience, no matter how long they've been going through the motions in their adopted country. And beckoning from across the oceans, promising that connection, are these few straws of his ancestral home.

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