• Blued Books, Li Mu

In China, all photographs of teenagers in juvenile detention facilities are marked with a black stripe over the subjects’ eyes. This rule is a government effort meant to obscure convicted teenagers’ identities and lessen any ridicule they might receive upon release. But as Chinese artist Li Mu illustrates in his piece Blued Books, a face remains identifiable and expressive even in the absence of the eyes.

In 2008 and 2009 Mu spent six months visiting the Shanghai Juvenile Reformatory. During his visits, he created a temporary library of art books, interviewed the teenagers, and photographed them for his project. Blued Books is a series of individual portraits that depict young men and women clad in baby blue uniforms holding art books at their waists. One woman, who Mu says has been in the reformatory for ten years, holds a book of Pablo Picasso paintings. Her hands are puffy, irritated—even reminiscent of Picasso’s elephantine women in his painting Grand Nu à la draperie. The contrast between the overtly sexual Picasso woman on the book’s cover and the teenager’s rigid pose is jarring. Here, Mu seems to play Picasso’s figure, celebrated for her individuality and sexuality, against his own subject, a young female stripped of both qualities.