Inspired by the new series of The Bottom Drawer – Books that Changed my Life, Project Manager Alessandra Cianetti goes back to her bookcase to pick some of the titles that shaped her thinking in the past and recent years.
Li Zehou - The Path of Beauty: A Study of Chinese Aesthetics
One of the books I felt I had to bring with me when I moved to London (ten years ago now!), was “La via della bellezza” (The Path of Beauty) by Li Zehou. I ‘met’ this publication by chance through a common friend, a Professor of Chinese language when I was a student back in Venice. Over the years, The Path of Beauty has been an inspiration for its historical breadth, and interconnected exploration of literature, arts, aesthetics and philosophy. I forgot it was sitting on my bookshelf, and I definitely take this rediscovery as a hint to re-read it!
Fawzia Afzal-Khan - Lahore with Love. Growing up with girlfriends, Pakistani Style
Carrying on talking about encounters of people and books… I briefly met Fawzia Afzal-Khan at a conference in Belgrade back when travelling seemed possible. I was ecstatic at her ability to articulate the national, international and socio-political implications of Pakistan and its diaspora’s theatre in her “Speaking across borders” presentation. When looking at her body of work, my attention was caught by something definitely less academic: Lahore with Love. A deeply personal, compelling, and entertaining coming-of-age memoir about her upbringing, and how female friendship was a pivotal site of growth and exchange that helped her shape her life. I always love to know where great minds come from.
Adrian Heathfield - Out of Now. The lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh
This wonderfully researched publication for Tehching Hsieh’s show at the 57th Venice Biennale, is a rare account that follows the life of the twenty-four-year-old Taiwanese artist sailing to the US to become one of the masters of contemporary art. As Heathfield writes “aside from this act of migration, the journey of which I will speak is a singular exploration of the boundaries, meanings, and capacities of art.” Out of Now is a precious account of Hsieh’s life and works and how they are intertwined and indissoluble. This well-documented publication is a pleasure not only to read but also to look at, with all its incredible images of an incredible life.
Charles Yu - Interior Chinatown
If someone had told me that I would have enjoyed a book revolving around the dream of becoming a “Kung Fu Guy”, I wouldn’t have believed it…but I didn’t know Charles Yu and I hadn’t yet read Interior Chinatown. Written in the form of a play and with its ironic take on popular culture, race, assimilation, and the fight to break stereotypes, Interior Chinatown is a deeply compelling read that glues your eyes to the page until the very last word.
Avni Doshi - Burnt Sugar
“I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”How can one stop reading a book that starts with this sentence? Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar is a personal and uncomfortable journey into one of the most complex relationships: the one between mother and daughter. Doshi guides us among layers of misunderstandings, obsessions, betrayal and the ongoing quest to know ourselves and the people we love. Disclaimer: it is not an easy read but surely one that will stay with you for long.
J. Daniel Luther and Jennifer Ung Loh - 'Queer' Asia
Reading the work of this transnational network of scholars, activists, artists and performers that flourished since 2016 has been a very interesting way to be fully immersed in the recent developments of thinking around the Asia contexts that, as mentioned in the foreword, “raises very different conceptual and political issues relative to studies of Western contexts”. Defined as one of the most energetic and exciting phenomena to emerge in this field of studies, Queer Asia is a constant source of thinking also on how to create an accepting, inclusive, passionate, and understanding environment for art, research and exchange of ideas.
Defne Ayas, Natasha Ginwala, and Jill Winder - Stronger than Bone
As a publication reflecting on this year’s Gwangju Biennale, Stronger than Bone is a collection of essays that gifts us with the desires, strengths, art works, and collective wisdom of artists and thinkers across ages and nationalities. As an art book conceived during a pandemic year, this publication is a delicate yet powerful sharing of works that reflect on our fragility as human beings as well as our resilience and need for conviviality. Inspired by the visionary Greek poet Sappho, I’d like to leave to her the task of concluding this brief exploration of my bookshelves:
“May I write more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve.”