Hung Liu: The Chinese-American Artist Essay
Hung Liu: The Chinese-American Artist
“The mind changes, the word changes, time doesn’t stay still, history is a verb, it is ongoing, there is no past tense, future tense, history is constant” Hung Liu told interviewer Rachelle Riechart (Riechart). Hung Liu is a Chinese woman who was born in Changchun, China in 1948. She was born during the age which we call the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which heavily impacted her life. She lived in China for 36 years and then left for the United States. She now resides in Oakland, CA, where she teaches art at Mills College (“A World of Art”).
A lot of her artwork is based on photographs and memories she has from China and photographs she’s taken in the United States. She takes photographs of pictures, repaints them, usually oil paint on canvas, and slightly alters them by leaving washes and drips to show how history can’t be remembered fully from a picture. She also does artwork for American history such as a piece she did in South Carolina for Chinese people who owned laundry mats (Riechart). I find most of Hung Liu’s artwork to be very historical and personal, because most of her artwork comes from her own photographs.
I’d like to focus on how she addresses the struggles of being an immigrant throughout the country, how Hung Liu maintains her cultural traditions in almost all of her artwork, and how she defines the word “history”. Hung Liu came to the United States during the 1980s, which was a rough time to be Asian in the United States. During this time we were having a recession and many auto industries were going out of business due to Japanese imports. Aside from that, it was not too long after the Vietnam War had ended. Many factors contributed to the racism targeted against Asian-Americans.
Although it was the Japanese making the cars and the Vietnamese during the war, ignorant Americans would rationalize by saying they all look the same and would blame Chinese, Filipinos or any Asian people. There was a man named Vincent Chin in 1983, one year before Hung Liu immigrated to the United States, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a white man named Ebens, because Ebens believed Vincent Chin and his people were at fault for the fall of American auto industry. “One dancer heard Ebens say explicitly ’It’s because of you motherfu*kers that we’re out of work’” was the accusation he made.
Vincent was a young man who was about to get married in a few weeks before he was murdered. His father was a Chinese immigrant who worked hard and owned laundry mats, and later served in the military for his citizenship and was later able to bring his wife and adopted son, Vincent, to the free land (Yung). Hung Liu worked hard with extensive research to find that her fellow Chinese people who had been living in America before her had owned many laundry mats and were very involved in the laundry business.
When asked by a college in South Carolina to create a piece for them, she designed clothing and had her family create them and this piece later turned into a memorial for the laundry businesses in the South (Riechart). Figure 1: “Forbidden City” Figure 1: “Forbidden City” Another struggle that Hung Liu addressed that might have affected her life in California was that in the 1800s, Chinese women were shipped in and used as prostitutes around San Francisco for miners (Tedford). In 1991 Hung Liu painted the “Forbidden City”, shown in figure 1, which shows exposed women in the Forbidden City of China.
I feel like this painting is called Forbidden for multiple reasons, one being the Palace in China was known as the Forbidden City, and also the painting seems “Forbidden” because of the naked women on the picture. Also I think that because San Francisco is known as “The City”, the Forbidden City could refer to San Francisco as well. This piece addresses her understanding of the difficulty of being a Chinese-American woman at the time. Hung Liu is very proud of her ethnical background and is not afraid to show it.
Almost all of her work has Chinese culture in it, from the scenery such as buildings or flowers to something smaller like calligraphy. A good example is the Forbidden City piece that I previously mentioned. It addresses an issue that originated in California, but it shows the scenery of a Chinese Palace. She could have done this because the issue probably affects some people in China. She also does some installation art called “Resident Alien”, show in figure 2. This piece has Chinese people doing Tai Chi, and has Chinese pillars with calligraphy on them.
Also it has two piles of fortune cookies. It is believed that the fortune cookie represents a “sexual slang for Chinese women” (Tedford). Overall, these two pieces really incorporate the Chinese culture in Hung Figure 2: “Resident Alien” Figure 2: “Resident Alien” Liu’s art and show that she loves to express her culture. Figure 2: “Resident Alien” Figure 2: “Resident Alien” Figure 3 : “Refugee: Woman and Children” Figure 3 : “Refugee: Woman and Children” The most distinctive characteristic Hung Liu has is the way she defines the word history.
The way she sees it is that although you can have a memory from a picture, you can’t remember every detail from that picture, such as the words you spoke that second or what happened exactly 20 seconds before that picture was taken, or even 20 seconds after. There are always missing puzzle pieces with history. She also believes history is a verb, because it is always happening and always going. History never ends and is always being made. The way she depicts her attitude towards history in her artwork is by leaving washes and drips of paint when she repaints a photograph.
These washes and drips indicate the incompleteness of the photograph. The drips are the fuzziness of memory (Riechart). Hung Liu uses this technique in the majority of her artwork and is very famous for it. The painting I chose to show her historical artwork is titled, “Refugee: Woman and Children”, shown in figure 3. I chose this painting because it shows what was probably common for Chinese women who were refugees during times of war and were forced to leave China. You can also see all the drips she made on the painting, which she uses to show the unknowing of what was going on during that photograph. Hung Liu is a great artist.
She’s well aware of the struggles of being a Chinese Immigrant in America where violent actions were taken on all Asians. Regardless of the risk it takes to be an Asian-American, she still proudly represents her Chinese culture in her art pieces, and she teaches the Chinese history through her art. She’s created her own style and uses a drip technique to show how she defines history, and to show from her point of view how she sees the world and she uses photographs to show things that actually happened and were caught on camera. Overall, she is a very influential woman to other Asian-Americans and aspiring artists.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 October 2016
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