IEAS Exhibit Series — Arts of Asia

Taiwan Nocture: Post War Photographs of the New Republic


August 10 – October 7, 2009
Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm
IEAS Lobby, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

A divided China entered the 1950s. Sixty years ago, the mainland became the People's Republic of China, and Taiwan became the Republic of China. Taiwan and the mainland shared much culturally, despite their separate historical trajectories, and new political realities.

The photographs in this exhibition, on loan from the collection of the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at the University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim, are not journalistic reports of the ferment and struggles of the era, but lyrical meditations on traditional culture and daily life. Through the eyes of two Jesuit priests working in Taiwan in the 1950s, Frederick J. Foley and Alden J. Stevenson, we see street scenes, working lives, agricultural labor, and studies of individuals.

Though little documentation on these works survives, the photographs themselves are part of the visual record of the period. Shot primarily in Taiwan by both photographers, and by Reverend Stevenson in mainland China, we see in these photographs the shadows of an earlier age, a way of life even then in its twilight years. Glimpses of the encroaching industrial and urban development are rare. Absent entirely is the turmoil and tumult of nation-creation in the wake of war, revolution, and flight. Instead, the two photographers, though working individually, share nostalgia for a pastoral idyll they saw in their surroundings. Their works celebrate the poetry in the everyday, not the struggle and upheaval that was equally a reality of their time.

This exhibition is part of a series of events for the month of September focusing on Taiwan and China. Among the programs are a conference on political culture and questions of identity in Taiwan, and speakers discussing contemporary developments in the relationship between China and Taiwan, and discussions of the political situation in China today. As a backdrop to these discussions of the great questions of the history, politics, and identity, this exhibition offers a view of commonplace concerns. At our historical moment, when relations between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China are undergoing significant shifts, this exhibition looks back at life during the moment of emergence, seen through the lens of foreign encounter.

This exhibition is on loan from the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at the University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim (, with the support of members of Friends of Ricci.

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