HUNG LIU WAS BORN IN CHANGCHUN, CHINA IN 1948.
Hung Liu studied mural painting as a graduate student at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, before immigrating to the US in 1984 to attend the University of California, San Diego, where she studied under Allan Kaprow, the American originator of Happenings.
“I have been painting in America since 1984, but Chinese history has always been the essence of my work. I grew up singing The Internationale. In my middle school English class, our teacher gave us the English version of the lyrics. We once truly believed in Communism, in a socialist utopian dream, and in heroism. I have since replaced those beliefs with a kind of modern humanism, but some fundamental values and ideology from my thirty-six years in China stay with me. I was never interested in being a victim struggling in an authoritarian society. I admired heroes and wanted to be a tough solider. Even today, when I’m wounded, I’d rather lick the blood and get back to work – like the women soldiers in “Daughters of China,” the 1949 propaganda film that serves as the basis for my most recent paintings. Usually I paint from historical photographs of China, but in this case the film offered me a sequence of panoramic stills, each frame filled with the heroic and desperate struggles of eight female soldiers who, in 1938, sacrificed their lives to save the retreating Chinese army. I saw this film as a child in China, and it shaped my expectations of women as protagonists in the emerging socialist utopia.
Of course, utopia never arrived, but a kind of hard won feminism stayed with me the rest of my life, and served me well in America. History is not a static image or a frozen story. It is not a noun. Even if its images and stories are very old, it is always flowing forward. History is a verb. The new paintings are my way of painting life back into my memories of a propaganda film that, over time, has become a document of the revolutionary sincerity that permeated my childhood. Even the actors in the film believed in their roles. When they walked into the river, carrying their dead and wounded, they were going home. “
“As [an] artist, the biggest challenge to me is not to repeat myself.”