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All The World's A Stage
by Mulan Gallery
Location: Mulan Gallery
Artist(s): LIU Yan
Date: 14 Jan - 18 Feb 2012

Liu Yan’s new series of works centres on the intrinsic theatricality of life. Using symbols and iconography from Peking opera and drawing from life and memory, this series of works explores both the dichotomy and overlap between ideals and reality and the duality of dreaming – the artist’s hopes and ideals, as well as the subconscious world of dreams. The paintings carry the full weight of Liu’s emotions: her loves and sorrows, anxieties about modernity’s spiritual crisis, and memories and longing for the natural simplicity of childhood.

As someone born in 1960s old Beijing who was sent to the country to be a worker during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, Liu Yan grew up during a time of immense transformation in her country, witnessing its transition from the Cultural Revolution, to its subsequent economic reforms and growing dominance of capitalism and foreign influences. Maturing amidst the frenzy of burgeoning social and technological advancement, industrialisation, urbanisation and commercialisation, Liu’s works often express the double‚Äźedged sword of China’s new openness to international influences and increasing economic and personal freedoms.

Melding and reconciling her love for traditional forms such as Peking opera and calligraphy with her love of modern Beijing rock from the hutongs and contemporary culture, Liu’s work demonstrates the tensions and ambivalence felt by a child of ’60s Beijing who grew up during and after the height of the Cultural Revolution. Her work combines modern Western culture with imagery and icons from traditional Chinese culture, and often addresses contemporary social issues and topics, such as the erosion of traditional culture as a result of rapid urbanisation and development. Both celebratory of the freedoms and liberties of modern life in China and mournful of the loss of traditional values and the simplicity of a past era, her works offer a commentary on the jarring discordance of the decadent materialism of modern urban life and its drastic departure from traditional values. Combining traditional subject matter, materials and techniques of traditional realist Chinese painting with Western representational modes and painting and contemporary images, Liu’s works conflate and contrast past and present, tradition and modernity, East and West, and creates with these layered cultural references and jarring juxtapositions an unrestrained reflection of China’s wrought cultural and sociopolitical history and a nuanced reflection of what modern life means for the Chinese urbanite.

“An outstanding artwork should be touched by the artist’s soul and emotions and issue from a personal angle. If you fall in love with the work, it will be ultimately be accepted by the viewer and society as well.”
– Liu Yan, May 1998

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