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Daughters of China – Solo Exhibition of Hung Liu’s Work

Kala Art Institute is proud to present Daughters of China, a solo exhibition of acclaimed Bay Area painter Hung Liu’s work. Curated by Peter Selz and Sue Kubly, the exhibition features a series of Hung’s paintings based on a well-known propaganda film Daughters of China from 1949 that Liu remembers seeing as a child. The film depicts an actual 1938 event in which eight female soldiers fighting the Japanese staged a rear-guard action that allowed the Chinese army to escape. Cut off with their backs against a river, they were coaxed to surrender when the Japanese realized they were women. Rather than capitulate, the eight young soldiers—ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-eight—carried their dying and wounded into the river and drowned. Arise Ye Wretched of the Earth, (2008) shows the women as they struggle in the river. Indeed, with its drips and washes, the painting seems to be drowning its own subjects.

Known for paintings based on historical Chinese photographs, Hung Liu’s subjects over the years have been prostitutes, refugees, street performers, soldiers, laborers, and prisoners, among others. As a painter, Liu challenges the documentary authority of historical Chinese photographs by subjecting them to the more reflective process of painting. Much of the meaning of Liu’s painting comes from the way the washes and drips dissolve the documentary images, suggesting the passage of memory into history, while working to uncover the cultural and personal narratives fixed – but often concealed – in the photographic instant. Washing her subjects in veils of dripping linseed oil, she both “preserves and destroys the image.” Liu has invented a kind of weeping realism that surrenders to the erosion of memory and the passage of time, while also bringing faded photographic images vividly to life as rich, facile paintings. She summons the ghosts of history to the present. In effect, Liu turns old photographs into new paintings.

A two time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting, Liu also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Printmaking from the Southern Graphics Council International in 2011. A retrospective of Liu’s work, “Summoning Ghosts: The Art and Life of Hung Liu,” was recently organized by the Oakland Museum of California, and is scheduled to tour nationally through 2015. In a review of that show, the Wall Street Journal called Liu “the greatest Chinese painter in the US.” Liu’s works have been exhibited extensively and collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Los Angeles County Museum, among others. Liu currently lives in Oakland, California. She is Professor Emerita at Mills College, where she has taught since 1990.

The exhibition of Daughters of China and related programs are supported, in part, by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation.

For opening reception, beer provided by Fort Point Beer Company. Music by B Street.


Exhibition Dates: October 19, 2017 — January 20, 2018, free admission

Related Event: Saturday, November 11, 6-8pm
$10-20 sliding scale admission, Free for Kala members
Panel Discussion with Hung Liu, Peter Selz and Larry Rinder, Director of UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive