“Da Jie and I have a similar will for freedom and I really respect her,” artist Stella Zhang said in a recent conversation from her studio in March 2022, reflecting on Hung Liu’s legacy. Throughout our discussion, Zhang referred to Liu as da jie (meaning “older sister” in Mandarin), an endearing nickname given to Liu by a community of immigrant Chinese artist friends. Da jie carries the sense of a protector, a caretaker, and a trailblazer.
Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) at the de Young museum provides a moment to reflect on Liu’s relentless attitude toward freedom. By introducing the work of Zhang and Cathy Lu in relation to Liu’s legacy, the exhibition shows how each artist grapples with the failures of history in their artistic gestures toward healing and reconciliation. Putting Liu’s work in dialogue with like-minded Bay Area Chinese American female artists provides insight into the role she played in our local arts community and her lasting imprint on American arts.
Zhang and Liu both graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, journeyed to America under unstable circumstances, and, through their art practice, brought their subjectivities into dominant histories as a form of resistance. Zhang and Liu represent two generations of youth at CAFA—one intersecting with the Cultural Revolution and one intersecting with the Tiananmen Square student protest. A sense of unspoken comradery and a shared notion of liberation connect the two artists.
Present Tense: Task of Remembrance, 2019, was a group exhibition at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco (CCC) that explored the responsibility of remembering, especially in light of threats to democracy, rising global xenophobia, and ongoing systemic violence and racism. The exhibition was inspired by the 30th anniversary of major local and global upheavals, including the student protests in Tiananmen Square, the Loma Prieta earthquake, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At CCC, Hung Liu and Stella Zhang exhibited side by side for the first time. Chinese Pietà, 1989, by Liu and Sealed Memory, 2019, by Zhang are pieces that were created in America in response to the Tiananmen Square incident, conceptualized 30 years apart.