"I am a Greek born in the Xiao-Xiang region," Chinese author and painter Sun Pu likes to say. "I came to the United States because I was taking a walk and, unawares, went too far." The 75-year-old artist has used ten pen names since 1941; now known as Mu Xin, he writes in Mandarin in the Queens apartment he rarely leaves.
Before he left China in 1982, Mu Xin spent some ten years imprisoned, on and off, on charges never specified. While in solitary confinement during the Cultural Revolution he scavenged paper and set down his thoughts on art, literature, and philosophy--which often took fantastic turns--in script so tiny it is almost unreadable. A decade later, under house arrest, he painted a series of 33 gouache and ink landscapes that depicted both real and imaginary places. "I was rejected by the absurd world at the time, so I built a more reasonable but magic world in which I sincerely lived," he said in one interview. "I think he's replicated his creative situation in China here," says University of Chicago professor of Chinese literature Judith Zeitlin. "The real world isn't anywhere as interesting as where he's going in his imagination."
On Thursday, February 28, Zeitlin and four colleagues will read literary passages they believe relate to Mu Xin's inner voyages. Among her picks is Zhang Dai's 1671 comment: "I am like that man of the hills who returned from the seaside, praising the pleasures of seafood in glowing terms; and everyone in his hometown crowded around him to lick his eyes. But, unfortunately, once those precious relishes and sweet morsels of shellfish pass the tongue, they are gone--and then how can licking the eyes ever satisfy the craving?"
"Imagined Landscapes: Readings by University of Chicago Faculty Members" takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood, in conjunction with "The Art of Mu Xin: Landscape Paintings and Prison Notes," the first museum exhibition of Mu Xin's work, which runs through March 31. Museum admission and the event are free; call 773-702-0200 for more information.