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Hung Liu: Strange Fruit


An exhibition of some 25 new works by painter Hung Liu will be on exhibit at Laguna Art Museum through February 23, 2003. The exhibition, co-curated and co-organized by the Boise Art Museum and Heather Lineberry, will travel nationally. A 56-page color catalogue for the exhibition including essays by Sandy Harthorn, curator of art, Boise Art Museum, and Heather Sealy Lineberry, senior curator, ASU Art Museum, will be available in the Museum store. (left: Hung Liu, Strange Fruit (Comfort Women), 2001, oil on canvas, 80 x 160 inches, collection of the artist, Courtesy Rena Bransten Gallery)

Liu's new paintings, many of which are being shown for the first time in this exhibition, reflect her diverse personal history in their combination of styles. Exhibition curator Heather Lineberry said that Hung Liu's experiences growing up during China's Cultural Revolution and her move to this country in 1984 exhibit both adversity and perseverance.

"This history predetermines the layers of content and formal approaches found in her paintings, what she has called 'pastiches of style and clashes of cultures," Lineberry said.

Liu's formal training in Beijing permitted drawing only from life, forbidding even the use of photography to capture that life. It also strictly limited the way in which artists were permitted to paint. Liu has likened the constrained, figurative painting process to paint-by-numbers with rules regarding anatomical dimensions and color combinations.

Liu, however, rebelled against these strict controls and even while in China she secretly used photography as an aid in her painting. When she was permitted to move to San Diego in 1984 to further her studies, Liu expanded her use of photographs in her work. Her style also developed, as she was able, for the first time, to give free reign to her creative impulses. (left: Hung Liu, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, 2001, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 inches, collection of the artist, Courtesy Rena Bransten Gallery)

Liu's fascination with history and photos, particularly with reclaiming the lost histories of nameless women, has been strongly influenced by the losses she and her own family suffered as she grew up. Her father was interned in a labor camp when she was a baby and her family destroyed most of their family photos out of fear, because such personal items were forbidden during the Cultural Revolution.

During the past five years, Liu's paintings have gained in complexity. Historic photographs from early and mid-20th century China have been her primary inspiration throughout her career. Yet her translation of these images has become more layered, ambiguous and sensuous.

"Liu samples freely from Eastern and Western, historic and contemporary practices. The paintings hover between realistic and abstract, narrative and symbolic, allowing for multiple interpretations by the viewer," Lineberry said. In many paintings, Liu explores representations of women. Her women are icons -- prostitutes, brides, warriors, mothers -- treated as individuals, rather than simply a nameless, insignificant part of history.

The women of Strange Fruit, painted in 2001, are based on photographs of Korean "comfort women" who were forced into service for Japanese soldiers during wartime. In eight portraits from the exhibition, Liu departs from the composition of the source photography and memorializes the comfort women as individuals. The Japanese sword seen in the original photography remains in the picture, yet the men are stricken from the image.


The following additional text is from panels placed on the walls of the exhibition:


Strange Fruit: New Paintings by Hung Liu


The works in this exhibition, painted by Hung Liu over the last five years, are based on real people and historic incidents, and investigate the reality of pictorially documented history. Liu is interested in chronicling the lives of oppressed people and, in particular, portraying Chinese women and children in the context of their social history. Ultimately her paintings are about human rights and express the struggle of oppressed peoples to attain freedom. They articulate how each of us is subject to our circumstances.

Hung Liu's images are primarily based on 19th and 20th century photographs taken by Western visitors to China. Liu works from the viewpoint of a scholar artist who utilizes photographs as source material. Her use of photographs grows out of her experiences during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), when family photographs were confiscated by the Chinese government to encourage loss of individual identity. Her approach constitutes an act of rebellion, since painting from photographs was frowned upon in China, as was working without a predetermined content and composition.

To develop the imagery for her paintings, Liu may edit the content of the photograph, change the scale, or manipulate the compositional arrangement. Thin washes of paint and the dissolving of images are admittedly references to the liquidity of photographic emulsion. Liu also notes that the random movement of the drips down the canvas are a metaphor for implied loss of control.

The information presented here is based on essays from the exhibition catalogue, Hung Liu: Strange Fruit, available in the Museum Store.


Artist's Biography


Hung Liu was born in Changchun, China, in 1948. Liu was six months old when her father, an officer in Chang Kai Shek's Nationalist Army, was captured by the Communists and taken away to prison. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, she was sent to a forced labor camp for "re-education." Later, she enrolled in the Beijing Teachers College. Trained in the mandated art style of social realism, she was instructed how to paint and what to paint. The process was akin to paint-by-numbers, with rules as to anatomical dimensions and color combinations.

In 1984 she emigrated to the United States to attend college at the University of California, San Diego, and from 1990 to the present she has been a faculty member at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Hung Liu holds an MFA in Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego, and an MFA equivalent in Mural Painting, Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, China. She was the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts painting fellowships in 1989 and 1991.

The information presented here is based on essays from the exhibition catalogue, Hung Liu: Strange Fruit, available in the Museum Store.


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