An artist inspired to fight for justice

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am

The blazing reds and vibrant blues that erupt from artist Linda Liao's canvases find their roots in a childhood spent running wild in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and a continuing desire to right social wrongs.

While she says some of the harrowing sights of people being tortured and beaten in the streets near her home in Guangxi province remain burned in her memory, it is social injustice that spurs her on today.

'It's affected my colours,' the 44-year-old artist says. 'I saw how people treated others during the Cultural Revolution, with callousness and disrespect to humans. It really annoys me when I see that in daily life and I want to speak out.'

She speaks out through her paintings, now on display in an exhibition called 'Human Nature' and launched at a funky Tin Hau shop-cum-gallery on Saturday.

'When I start painting, I don't have a fixed idea of what I'm going to do, I have a theme or an idea of what I want to express, but I don't know what it'll turn out like until I'm actually painting,' she explains in her airy studio in a Wan Chai office block.

Although she began working with traditional brush painting, she now uses whatever is at hand to create some of the dark-themed images on display, including knives, her fingers or even a hair dryer.

One painting, Monkey Brain, addresses frustrations that most people have experienced from time to time - a job that gives no satisfaction and stymies skills.

'I worked for a reinsurance company which had different nationalities working for it. I was hired to find clients in China. Once I found them, others at work took on the clients and I was just told to sit in the office.'

She turned her back on the reinsurance world and began painting full-time in 2000.

'I was born in 1962, the Cultural Revolution started hotting up from 1965. By 1967 to 1968, it was very hard. I grew up in Guangxi province and saw people being tortured and beaten up and humiliated, with people spitting on them.'

Her mother worked as an engineer helping to build a military road to Vietnam. While her mother took her along and they stayed at a workers' compound, Liao's father and brother were in a re-education camp, which they called the 'cattle depot'.

'We were in the countryside during the re-education period. There were no schools. All parents were supposed to work or be re-educated. We were just left without any care, we'd run around, play with the workers and go to the river and the bush. We could do anything we wanted, there was no one to look after us. It's amazing we didn't die.'

'Human Nature' can be seen at Kapok, G/F, 9 Dragon Road, Tin Hau until August 7.