A Question of Hu: The Narrative Art of Hung Liu
August 22, 2023 - December 2, 2023
I paint from historical photographs of people; the majority of them had no name, no bio, no story left. Nothing. I feel they are kind of lost souls, spirit-ghosts. My painting is a memorial site for them.
Groundbreaking Chinese American artist Hung Liu (1948–2021) made highly narrative images that foregrounded workers, immigrants, refugees, women, children, and soldiers in haunting, incandescent portraits that mingle Chinese and Western artistic traditions. Liu was born in Changchun, China, and her childhood and youth coincided with one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history. After her arrival in San Diego, California, in 1984, Liu became one of the first Chinese artists to establish a career in the United States. Decades later, she would be justly celebrated for establishing novel frameworks for understanding visual art’s relationship to history by focusing on communities misrepresented and marginalized by official narratives.
Liu experienced political revolution, exile, and displacement before immigrating to the United States. She came of age during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and was consequently forced to labor in the fields in her early twenties. After studying art in Beijing, she left China to attend graduate school at the University of California, San Diego. There, the experimental tendencies of the students and faculty, most notably those of performance artist Allan Kaprow (1927–2006) and art historian Moira Roth (1933–2021), helped cultivate her conceptual approach to portraiture.
Featuring highly experimental painting, printing, and weaving techniques, Liu’s challenging yet accessible oeuvre has been aptly characterized by her husband, the art critic Jeff Kelley, as a species of “weeping realism.” Titled A Question of Hu, after China scholar Jonathan Spence’s 1988 book The Question of Hu, the exhibition reintroduces Liu’s remarkable art to the Pacific Northwest, while demonstrating—as few artistic oeuvres can—an expanded view of citizenship in an era of seismic change that is also fundamentally marked by evolving ideas of artistic solidarity and collaboration.