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.”