Hung Liu Women Warriors Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Exhibition is made possible with assistance from Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe.
Female strength in the face of persecution is the thread running through Women Warriors: Portraits by Hung Liu, opening at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts August 5.
The exhibition contains 20 mixed-media, painted, and photographic works that show the power and perseverance of Chinese women throughout history–from imperial concubines to warriors of the Red Army and survivors of the Cultural Revolution–like herself.
Hung Liu has exhibited widely throughout the U.S. and internationally. Her paintings and installations are in collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is a two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts painting fellowship, and is Professor Emerita of Studio Art at Mills College, Oakland, CA.
Liu was born to a captain in the Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek in Changchun, China in 1948. Her father was captured by Communist forces, and imprisoned in a labor camp. When Hung was 11, she and her mother fled to Beijing, where she survived Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” and the mass famine it induced. To protect the family, Liu’s mother destroyed all the photographs he was in.
Sent into the countryside at 20 for “reeducation” Hung Liu worked every day for four years as a farm laborer. It was there she began to secretly take photographs with a friend’s camera–some of which are seen in her current work.
“This exhibition presents visions of determined, strong, beautiful warriors–fragmentary glimpses of unknown women–enveloped within new lives of beauty and dignity,” says KIA Executive Director Belinda Tate.
Hung’s work often makes use of anonymous Chinese historical photographs, particularly those of women, children, refugees, and soldiers. Many are based on photographs of Chinese concubines and prostitutes she discovered in an old shop when she returned to China in 1990. Hung says “the majority of girls were sold by poor families. Girls were not as precious as boys; they could not carry on the family name.”
Liu points out that photography in China, originally used by the royal court, commodified these oppressed concubines even as it gave them a place in history alongside the highest strata of society. She strives to give these anonymous women a new life of beauty, often employing gold or silver leaf along with symbols of rebirth, immortality, wisdom, and good fortune between layers of resin. The resulting images are amalgamations of beauty, history, and transformation.
Viewers may wonder about the circles and drips in Hung Liu’s paintings. The circle references immortality and infinity, and functions as the period at the end of a Chinese sentence. In school in China, Hung’s instructor would circle his favorite part of her work. She suggests the drips represent the blurring of memory, reinforcing our responsibility to remember the past clearly: every day is Memorial Day, every day is Thanksgiving.
An opening celebration for the exhibition is set for Friday, August 4, 5-8 pm at the museum, as part of August Art Hop. Admission is free.
This exhibition is organized with the assistance of Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and supported in Kalamazoo by the Joy Light East Asian Art Acquisition and Exhibition Fund. It will be on view in the museum’s Joy Light Gallery For Asian Art.
About the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts believes the visual arts are for everyone, and that they inspire, transform, and fulfill. Chartered in 1924 as private non-profit organization, the KIA offers opportunities to explore, enjoy, and create art. With more than 4,700 fine artworks in its permanent collection, the museum presents collection-based and touring exhibitions in 10 long-term and changing galleries. The Kirk Newman Art School hosts four terms of community-based art classes for all ages.
A link to the exhibition at KIA is here.