Forum to examine self-portraits of Chinese American artist

February 6, 2018
Dr. Dong Isbister
Dr. Tyler Ostergaard

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – By definition, self-portraiture is an artistic form of self-representation through images. According to art historian Frances Borzello, self- portraits are “part of the language painters use to make a point, from the simple ‘This is what I look like’ to the more complicated ‘This is what I believe in.’”

On Thursday, March 1, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s College of Liberal Arts and Education will present “Hung Liu’s Self-portraits and Traditional Chinese Motifs,” a faculty forum that addresses self-portraiture as an artistic form. The forum will be held in Room 136 Doudna Hall from 5-6:30 p.m.

Liu, a contemporary Chinese American artist born in Changchun, China in 1948, is best known for her paintings of historical Chinese photographs of people struggling and suffering during times of displacement and war. Her work has been exhibited and collected by renowned art museums throughout the United States.

At the forum, Dr. Dong Isbister, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at UW-Platteville, will examine three of Liu’s lithograph self-portraits – “Proletarian” (2006), “Immigrant” (2006) and “Citizen” (2006) – and discuss how Liu represented herself, under various conditions, in them. She also will discuss how Liu integrated traditional Chinese motifs, such as plants, crops, animals, calligraphy and colors into the portraits to explore meanings of im/migration and of being a Chinese American.

“Hung Liu's three self-portraits are exemplary artistic representations of Chinese immigrants’ efforts to construct transnational meanings of contemporary Chinese immigration,” said Isbister. “The artist is who she is today because of her ties and connections with her cultural roots and immigration experience, as we can see in the three portraits. The portraits also demonstrate what it means for Chinese immigrants to traverse between two cultures but never be completely defined by either.” 

Isbister will argue that cultural elements are important in Liu's representation of im/migration in relation to her cultural roots. Her goal is to help audience members develop a deeper understanding of Chinese immigrants’ cultural roots in the context of transnational history and im/migration. 

“Self-portraiture is not a mere portrayal of likeness or sameness; rather, it shows how artists choose to represent themselves under various social, historical or cultural conditions,” said Isbister. “In particular, self-portraiture represents embodied cultural, social and historical experiences of artists, which concurrently inform and shape perception and construction of artists’ identities.”

Isbister noted that in this light, Liu’s self-portraits are informed by her own experience and portray a trajectory of her identity change in two cultures – from being a proletariat and sent-down youth in China to becoming a resident alien and then a citizen in the United States.

The forum will draw from research Isbister has been conducting on Chinese immigrant women’s visual and literary narratives as a lens to study relations between gender, race, ethnicity, immigration and sexual experiences from a transnational perspective. She explained that, while the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in the United States and political, economic and social changes in the post-socialist China (1978-) have changed the demographics of Chinese immigration, they have also posed important questions about the role of more recent Chinese immigrants in sustaining their cultures while developing their new identities in a transnational context. 

Following Isbister’s discussion, Dr. Tyler Ostergaard, assistant professor of art history at UW-Platteville, will discuss Liu’s use of realism and its political connotations within her work and the art historical literature.

The forum is free and open to university students, faculty, staff and community members. Refreshments will be served.

The LAE Faculty Forum Series, a program instituted in the fall of 2004, is sponsored by UW-Platteville’s College of LAE. The purpose of the forum is to allow faculty to present information in their research areas. Presenters tailor their presentations to a general audience.

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, University Relations Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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