Based in Minneapolis, Xiaojie Liu is an award-winning Chinese illustrator influenced by national identity and contrasting cultures. Recording memories and intimate moments, the images address changing states and emotions towards existing and living in an ethnic autonomous prefecture in China.
A: You work mostly in illustration. Why are you interested in this art form in particular?
XL: Since I was a little girl, I really loved to read picture books and literature, and was interested in the illustrations in different kinds of books. Once I grew up, my goal was to become a successful illustrator like the artists whose book I had read.
A: Your works often centre around cultural identity and nationalism. Why is this important for you?
XL: In the summer of 2016, I left China to study in the USA. For the first time, everything was new, and this includes the languages, food, ways of thinking and much more.
By living in a new cultural and social environment, my original sense of identity started undergoing changes and was being transformed in this new environment. Most of my work explores my sense of cultural dislocation, as I constantly question my identity as a Chinese person living in another country. Because of all the changes that were happening around me, I began to explore myself and my emotions. In the meantime, all of the changes seemed to make me resilient so that I could find a sense of personal identification, step by step.
A: You grew up in an ethnic autonomous prefecture in China – what was this like and how have your experiences informed your art practice?
XL: I was born in Enshi City. Most of the people there, including myself, are Tujia, one of the national ethnic minority groups. In the past, the Tujia people were mostly engaged in agriculture. The women were masters of the art of weaving and embroidering. The other traditional handcrafts of Tujia people were carving, drawing, papercutting and wax printing. The Tujia brocade is called Xi Lan Ka Pu and is one of the most famous in China.
I created a series of works to record my childhood memories, telling all the interesting and unforgettable things and people I could remember from the past decade. I have composed it in two parts: my childhood memories in modern life as well as some old stories about Enshi City.
A: How and why do your works engage with wider socio-political concerns?
XL: The reason my project relates to national ethnic minority culture is because the culture is changing. For example, in my hometown, Tujia people who speak the Tujia language mainly live in this area. When they travel or move away, they may no longer speak their language to other people who are not from the same place. I think that because of globalisation and the influence and government policies, Tujia culture is losing more day by day. But every time I think about my hometown, I realise that I still have a sense of national identity. I created my works to relate the this.
A: Where do you find your inspiration?
XL: I love cartoons, children’s literature and children’s musicals. I’m also inspired by Fauvism.
A: What has been your most important exhibition to date?
XL: My thesis show for my MFA was one of the most important exhibitions for me. The project I exhibited took me about four months to finish. I felt very appreciative because my family members, my professor and my fiends attended to the show to support me.
A: How do your pieces find balance between digital and analogue media?
XL: For me, I think digital illustration can achieve more than what hand drawing could do. I like hand drawing more, and I like to use physical materials such as clay and do papercutting. I think it sometimes give me unexpected results. However, it’s not always flawless, so I like to fix the imperfections digitally.
Visit the artist’s website at www.xiaojieliu.com
The work of Xiaojie Liu appears in the Artists’ Directory in Issue 84 of Aesthetica. To pick up a copy, click here to visit our online shop.
Lead image: I Remember, I Remember.