The premise of the current exhibition “Mirror of Humanity: Seeing Ourselves in Playing Cards” is that the imagery used on playing cards tells us a lot about how we have viewed ourselves in the past. As an example, consider the deck The Forbidden City: Pekin & Chinese Views (Los Angeles, CA: Grimes-Stassforth Stationery Co., 1901). From a distance, it is a somewhat grey collection of stock views. But when we look closer, we can see some sights ripped from the headlines, and a set of attitudes from a specific moment in time. The deck was issued just after the Boxer rebellion, a war between anti-foreign Chinese forces and a coalition of Western powers including the United States, newly flexing its muscles as an international power.
In her guest label, Professor Amy Lelyveld describes many of the scenes depicted on the cards, such as the Two of Diamonds with the British Legation, one of the scenes of fighting: “It is shown here ‘after the Siege’ but with the protective barricade that was erected in front of the entrance and sandbags on the roof—intended to protect the roof from incoming artillery and catching fire–clearly still in place.”
It is the scorn of the victor which assigned the Joker to “the Chinese official authorized to act as a plenipotentiary in negotiating with peace with the allied foreign forces in early September 1900. He went on to be a signatory to the Boxer Protocol that required the Chinese Government to pay compensation—at immense expense—to the 8 Allied nations who resisted the Boxer Rebellion.”
Come in and see more of this deck, and the rest, from Argentina to South Africa!
Please join us on Monday, November 11, 2019 at 6 pm for a gallery tour, followed by a reception at Hex & Co., where we will announce the winner of a playing card design competition. Just sign up here.
The exhibition is open in the Kempner Gallery during RBML open hours until January 31, 2020.