Liu Bolin speaks on art, identity

The keynote of the inaugural day of the Yenching Global Symposium featured the renowned Chinese artist, Liu Bolin, known throughout the world as “The Invisible Man.” Through his installations in which he camouflages individuals into the background, he brings to light social concerns of his native China, as well as challenges faced by other countries.

The artistic community in China is greatly influenced by the concept “Identity,” the topic of today’s events. This generation of modern artists struggle with both the consequences of the Cultural Revolution, as well as China’s rapid economic growth beginning in the 1980s. Liu Bolin shared his responsibility as an artist to contribute to the culture of his native land and share his culture with the broader global community, explaining the motivations behind many works in his “Hiding in the City” exhibition, in which individuals are hidden within such backgrounds as red lanterns, red doors, and other cityscapes in Beijing.

His camouflage works began to take a more critical stance in 2008, in order to highlight the challenges of the rapid urbanization of Beijing in preparation of the 2008 Olympic Games. He began to seek to reflect the problems that are been tackled in modern Chinese society. Other Chinese social issues which he has tackled include food and drink safety, industrial pollution, and smog.

Additionally, he has also began to conduct artistic commentary on international issues. In Venice, he highlighted the challenges of global warming and the rising sea levels. In France, he celebrated the survivors of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, by camouflaging them within older editions of their magazines. He highlighted the social and political unrest in Colombia under the FARC by painting locals as targets.

At the end of his speech, he summarized his career by stating, “In my work, I try to show the spirit of protest and the respect for life.” He asserted that he was enthusiastic for his artistic exploration to continue.