Hung Liu Self Portraits

During the faculty forum on March 1, professor of Women and Gender Studies, Dong Isbister gave a lecture of artist Hung Liu’s self-portraits. The lecture, titled “Hung Liu’s Self Portraits and Traditional Chinese Motifs”, focused on the artists struggle of coming to the United States and finding her identity.

Isbister, asking what it means to be Chinese in America, brought up one of the main themes within Liu’s work.

“When I first got to the United States I had no clue because I was focusing on African-American literature and I had very little knowledge about being Chinese-American,” Isbister said.

After the 1965 Immigration Act, more immigrants started coming to the United States, and many international students from countries like Japan, didn’t come until the early 1980s.

“This was very different than previous immigration,” Isbister said.

She goes on to discuss the internal struggle many Chinese men and women have while immigrating here.

Isbister then posed the question of if you are Chinese in America or Chinese becoming American?

This was the struggle Liu faced when coming to America. Liu was first known for painting people during the times of displacement and war. In the late 1980s, she was using immigration as a central theme in her work. Her piece “Resident Alien” reads as a passport, but where her name would be on the piece instead reads “Cookie, Fortune.”

Isbister analyzed some of her most recent works and the common themes in her art. “Proletarian”, “Immigrant” and “Citizen” was a series of self-portraits Liu made in 2006. All of them had different overlapping themes. In “Proletarian”, there were references to Buddhism and Taoism, as well as the use of different types of lotus flowers, which could have double meaning alluding to the sex appeal of Chinese women and fertility. “Immigrant” shows a woman wearing a red scarf over her head, which could also be interpreted as a hijab and includes a rat because that year was the ‘Year of the Rat’ in China.

Many students attended the forum and were intrigued by the different types of art they saw from Liu.

“‘Modern Times’ stuck out to me. It was a diptych, which was different from the other pieces,” senior media studies major Ethan Hinze said. “It seemed to present some of the personal-political feelings of the artist over time. The diptych format, which introduced the aspect of time, also contained literal clocks as well which helped convey that theme.”

During the second half of the faculty forum, art history professor Tyler Ostergaard presented more pieces from Liu including, “Great Leap.”

“The history overall was very interesting,” junior elementary education major Robyn Maxey said. “Her pieces all had grave detail and symbolism. You could see that she had a certain style that she liked. She used a technique calling dripping, and it added an overall uniqueness. She really captures the emotions of the scene.”