Through July 20th, the museum is featuring a contemporary exhibition entitled The Other Side: Chinese and Mexican Immigration to America that re-examines the legacies of past and contemporary migrations to America as defined by the five artists Hung Liu, Andrea Bowers, Margarita Cabrera, Zin Lin, and Tony de los Reyes. Amongst these the sculptural work created by Hung Liu is particularly salutary.
Liu lives and works in Northern California, and presents here a very powerful sculptural installation along with several of her signature portrait paintings of Chinese women pioneers such as China Mary. Her installation, entitled Jiu Jin Shan, takes as its subject the historical realities and tensions between the Chinese hope for a better life in America and the struggle to make that dream a reality.
Jiu Jin Shan is both the title of her new installation work and the Chinese term for the North American Nevada Gold Mountain range that became so named in the late 1840s when gold was found in the mountain area’s rivers and streams. As news spread from Nevada to California and even to Canton, the Gold Rush era swept the West Coast.
Lui’s new sculptural work evokes, studies, and honors those who toiled and in many instances lost their lives building the Union Pacific Transcontinental railway that eventually offered transportation between the Midwest and the West coast. Simultaneously, this installation strategically juxtaposes the fragile fortune cookie dreams for financial success with the hard and dangerous labor expended by those who built the train tracks, often dynamited passageways through rugged mountainous terrain.
The fortune cookies’ messages often promised prosperity, but that proved to be a phoenix for most of the railroad workers. While a few select individuals prospered financially, it wasn’t the workers who blasted mountain rock to eventually arrive at what is known today as The Union Pacific train station in Downtown Los Angeles. That was the first of what would become five transcontinental railways. Of course, it brought substantial wealth to early investors including Collis Huntington and Thomas Durant.
But, instead of championing the wealth of Huntington and Durant who financially backed the building of the Western railways, Liu’s work champions the lives and legacies of the Chinese -American workers who labored and in some instances gave their lives to connect California with the mid-west. Creating a visual, historical ode to those who worked hard for American progress, Liu’s sculptural work is powerful and memorable.