Hung Liu - To Free the Spirit from its Cell
American, born in China, b.1948
To Free the Spirit from its Cell, 2007
Oil on canvas, 60 x 96 inches

Gift of the Alumni Board of Governors

Liu was born in Changchun, China in 1948, growing up under the Maoist regime. She emigrated from the Peoples Republic of China to the United States in 1984, having come of age as a young woman and artist during the Cultural Revolution. She currently lives in Oakland and is a tenured professor in the art department at Mills College.

To Free the Sprit from its Cell is one of a series of paintings inspired by stills from Daughters of China (1949), a Ling Zifeng film based on the heroic actions of a group of women officers and soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War. Rediscovering the film, Liu reduced its essence to a series of epic canvases occasionally edged by bands to mimic widescreen film format and further emphasize our remove from the original event. Liu's empathetic response to the final moments of the women, as they carry a wounded comrade into the river to draw away enemy fire from the Chinese Resistance fighters, brings to the fore the theme of personal sacrifice. The paintings in this series derive their titles from the lyrics of the Internationale, the nineteenth-century French anthem adopted by communists and socialists worldwide and used to this day. Its use also as a rallying song of the students and workers at the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 adds an additional layer to the political intent of these works.