Urgent Museum Notice

Hung Liu

A light-medium-skinned older woman leans her elbow against an interior marble balustrade. Her grey and black hair is pulled back, and she wears a black long-sleeve top and drop earrings, a red necklace, a red ring, and a red heart-shaped lapel pin.

Hung Liu in NMWA's Great Hall; Photo by Emily Haight

Born in 1948

Liu’s personal history dovetails with major changes in her native country. Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, Liu came of age under the communist regime of Mao Zedong. In her early 20s, Liu labored four years in rice and wheat fields for her agrarian re-education as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. During the 1970s, she completed her art and education degree and began a teaching career. Then, in 1984, Liu entered the Visual Arts Department at University of California, San Diego, and has lived and worked in the United States since then.

During her first trip back to China in 1991, Liu discovered a cache of 19th- and early 20th-century commercial-studio photographs portraying various Chinese female types prominent in pre-revolutionary China: prostitutes, child street acrobats, women laborers, war refugees. Fascinated by the shifting meanings that result when a historical photograph is separated from its original context, Liu began incorporating such imagery into her paintings.

Liu’s mature painting style combines these historical photographs with imagery and motifs from Chinese painting, as well as objects like ancient Chinese pottery and bronzes. Liu has written of such works, “I hope to wash my subjects of their  ‘otherness’ and reveal them as dignified, even mythic figures on the grander scale of history painting.”

Artist Details

  • Name

    Hung Liu
  • Birth

    Changchun, China, 1948

Works by Hung Liu

Untitled (from “Seven Poses”)

Hung Liu’s print series Seven Poses” replicates the distinctive, layered complexity of her paintings.

Liu’s works are most often based on 19th- and 20th-century photographs taken in China by commercial photographers or foreign tourists.  In “Seven Poses,” she presents images of Chinese prostitutes. She seeks to honor these women by exposing their severely circumscribed “place” in pre-revolutionary China.

Prized for their beauty...

Amid varied motifs that appear collaged or painted on an orange, coral, and peach background, a pair of large black, white, and tan birds perch on a flowering branch, which scatters petals. To the right, a seated, light-skinned woman with Asian features wears an elegant tunic.