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Liu Hung [Hung Liu Kelley]free

(b Changchun, Jilin Province, Feb 17, 1948).
  • Ann Barrott Wicks

Chinese painter. Her childhood was encompassed in the revolutionary fervor of the first two decades of Communist China. Her mother, a middle-school teacher, was forced to divorce her imprisoned father, a former captain in the Nationalist army. Educated in an exclusive boarding school for girls attached to Beijing Normal University, Liu was on the verge of graduation when the Cultural Revolution overtook China. Schools closed, and her family was targeted for ridicule. In 1968 Liu was sent for “re-education” in the countryside, where for four years she lived among peasants as a farm worker. In 1972 Liu entered Beijing Teachers’ College to study art and art education, after which she taught at Jingshan School in Beijing and became a national celebrity through a weekly Central China Television program for children, How to Draw and Paint.

In 1979 Liu began graduate studies at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, majoring in mural painting. Her research included two extensive trips to the Mogao Buddhist cave temples near Dunhuang. At the completion of her graduation project Music of the Great Earth, a mural designed for the foreign students’ dining hall in 1981, she became an instructor at the Academy of Fine Arts. That same year she was accepted to the graduate program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) but was unable to obtain permission to leave China. In 1984 she was finally allowed to matriculate to the department of visual arts of UCSD, where she studied under performance art pioneer Allan Kaprow; she graduated in 1986.

Liu revisited the past in large-scale works in oil on canvas and mixed media that are often inspired by Chinese historical photographs. Many works are expressly political. In Golden Lotus/Red Shoe (1990; New York, Donna and Frank Stanton, priv. col.) Liu portrayed a bold female soldier dancing in shoes the color of the Revolution opposite a portrait of a young woman crippled by tiny bound feet that were euphemistically referred to as “golden lotuses,” juxtaposing Mao’s view of women as equal to men with the repression of women in Chinese history. Liu protests both views of women as one-sided and unnatural.

In her works, Liu explored themes of displacement, repressed classes of people in China, including women, and identity among immigrants. Her paintings are assemblages in content as well as materials. The figures in Western Pass (1990; see De Guzman 2013, fig. 13) are based on a late 19th-century photograph of convicts tied to wooden crosses before execution. Liu combines the figures with lines from an 8th-century farewell poem by Wang Wei. Two wooden boxes, each holding a porcelain bowl, protrude from the painted canvas.

Liu is also well known for installations in which she combined paintings and three-dimensional objects, such as Resident Alien (1988; San Francisco, Capp Street Project; see De Guzman 2013, fig. 7) and Tai Cang, Great Granary (2008; Beijing Art Gallery; see De Guzman 2013, fig. 84). Shi Shumei (University of Southern California at Los Angeles) describes Liu’s art as expressions of “multiple antagonisms against varied dominant powers.”


  • Gouma-Peterson, T. Hung Liu: A Survey, 1988–1998. Wooster, OH, 1998.
  • Arieff, A. “Cultural Collisions: Identity and History in the Work of Hung Liu,” Woman’s Art Journal, 17 (Spring/Summer 1996): 35–40.
  • Holmes, A. “Hung Liu: The Aesthetics of Women’s History.” Women’s Stud (Spring 1996).
  • Hung Liu: Great Granary. Edited by Jeff Kelley; curated by Wu Hung. Beijing, Xin Beijing Art Gallery, 2010. Exhibition catalog.
  • Moser, J. “Interview: A Conversation with Hung Liu.” American Art 25, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 76–103.
  • Jennison, R. “Painting Life Back into History—Hung Liu’s ‘Hard-Won’ Feminist Art.” Feminist Studies 38, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 141–175.
  • De Guzman, R., ed. Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu. Berkeley, CA, 2013.