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In Conversation: Lisha Liang, Melding Art and Activism to Address Social Issues

Lisha Liang is an artist and researcher whose practice is deeply rooted in addressing social issues through a cross-disciplinary approach. Her work seamlessly blends performance, sculpture, interactive installations, video, photography, and painting. Liang's artistic focus is on gender issues and the perpetuation of gender-based violence. These pressing concerns have driven her to become an active voice in the feminist movement, using her art to explore and raise awareness about sex education and domestic violence.

Liang is also a Ph.D. student in Arts, History, and Society at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her research delves into interactive narrative, gender studies, digital media, art sociology, and feminist film, all aimed at reflecting social phenomena and addressing societal issues. Fluent in Chinese, English, and Italian, Liang's academic and artistic pursuits are intertwined, each informing and enriching the other.


Portrait of Lisha Liang. Image Courtesy of Lisha Liang.

Q: Can you tell us about your journey as an artist and what inspired you to focus on social issues, particularly gender-based violence, in your work?

I am purely driven by the boundless inspiration generated during the process of creation. The artistic themes I choose deeply resonate with me, evoking empathy, and I utilize art to convey my perspectives and emotions. Graduating from the Florence Academy of Fine Arts and currently pursuing a doctoral degree highlight my academic trajectory. My studies at the University of Bologna have profoundly influenced my personal development and artistic exploration. The decision to further my education stems from recognizing that while artistic practice can yield surface impacts, delving into deeper implications necessitates a foundation in theory and social research.


As for what motivates me, it's experiencing the inherent discomfort of society and its environment, much like how these discomforts permeate the air around us. People continuously inhale these discomforts, eliciting uneasy responses from their bodies. I endeavor to identify and articulate these discomforts, discovering themes such as ingrained gender inequality in society, the pervasive influence of patriarchal social structures, and the urgent desire for gender equality in both concept and practice. The collective suffering experienced by women prompts my exploration of these themes. Through immersive dialogues with individuals, extensive information gathering, and thorough analyses of current social dynamics, I embark on a journey of introspection. These methods serve as crucial tools for refining my thoughts. Subsequently, I express my viewpoints and seek appropriate artistic forms of expression to convey them. Essentially, my practice becomes a channel for transforming these profound reflections into tangible, visual narratives. Each artwork not only serves as a vessel for sharing my personal experiences but also as a conduit for broader commentary on societal challenges. Through the intersection of personal introspection, dialogue, and artistic expression, my aim is to foster awareness, inspire thoughtful discussions, and contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding gender issues.


Q: In "Identity Dissolution," you explore the concept of societal influences on individual identity. Can you elaborate on the symbolism behind the synthetic life forms and artificial environments depicted in this installation?

A community emerges from the fertile common ground, nurtured by the organic materials of the Earth, embodying the natural environment's essence. However, what grows in the planters is artificial—the plastic leaves and piled stones symbolize the man-made social environment. The members of this community undergo such profound transformations due to the societal milieu that they are deprived of their "natural selves." To us, they are a collection of synthetic metal objects crafted and altered by humans. Here, the human body is represented as a simple conduit, individual features erased, leaving only collective traits. I've installed an artificial intelligence device in the head, enabling the synthetic life forms to move and emit interactive sounds corresponding to different emotions when approached by people.


As we observe them, we sense their stark differences from us. We might judge them. But those eyes following ours remind us that someone is watching us, pondering the same things.


Identity Dissolution, 2021. Image Courtesy of Lisha Liang.

Q: "Those Girls Who Disappear" delves into the harrowing experiences of women facing violence and disappearance. Could you elaborate on the creative process behind this piece, from conceptualization to execution, and the emotions you aimed to evoke in the audience?

"Those Girls Who Disappear" is a horror video that presents a nonlinear narrative through an interactive experience from a female perspective. In it, the girls encounter unpredictable and irrational predicaments and dangers of everyday life, facing violence and threats for various reasons, ultimately disappearing. My work is inspired by the violence women have endured over the years, from beatings to trafficking, stabbings, exchanges, and forced marriages. Learning of these innocent girls vanishing and being destroyed, I couldn't contain my tears. My anger and pain morphed into a creative urge, continuously driving me to fight for women's freedom and equality.


In my work, interaction with the audience is facilitated by identifying different images inspired by the colors of blood from the female body, signifying the recurrence of violent events. White cages are chosen as the theme for the installation, stacked irregularly, symbolizing societal, legal, technological, cultural, and ideological constructs, all serving as women's greatest confines.


Those Girls Who Disappear, 2022. Image Courtesy of Lisha Liang.

Q: Your performance pieces, such as "Spring in a Cage" and "Whisper," offer personal reflections on sexuality and abortion. How do these performances contribute to the ongoing conversation surrounding women's reproductive rights and societal perceptions of sexuality?

I express my viewpoints through conceptual installations and performance art.


Growing up in a conservative family and society, I was inundated with many thoughts about sexual repression from a young age: "No sex before marriage," "If you're not a virgin, you can't get married," "You're still young, don't ask us about sex." Gradually, I became aware of the suppression I faced in my family environment and the lack of sexual education. I became curious about why my family refused to tell me about "sex." Did I have something to do with it?


With the development of the feminist movement over the past century, countries around the world have gradually addressed the issue of whether women can freely choose abortion, and more and more people have accepted it. There are many reasons why Chinese women choose to have abortions, but much data shows that the main reason is accidental pregnancy due to unprotected sex. This has prompted a reconsideration of the importance of sexual education for Chinese women. For many growing Chinese girls, the lack of sexual education and engaging in unsafe sexual behavior at an early age can lead to unintended pregnancies. Subsequently, due to age and pressures from family and society, they are forced to undergo abortion procedures.


At the same time, there are still some people who continue to oppose abortion. Despite women having autonomy over their bodies, they still face negative attitudes regarding abortion. I want to reconsider the importance of women's abortion rights in today's social environment.


I hope the public can rethink the meaning of life and the value of sexual education. I hope my work can prompt the public to reconsider women's rights and status and to give women respect and understanding regarding the issue of abortion rights.


Spring, 2021. Image Courtesy of Lisha Liang.

Q: What challenges have you faced in addressing sensitive topics like gender-based violence and reproductive rights through your art, and how do you navigate those challenges?

The topics I've chosen are somewhat sensitive within the domestic context, often stirring controversy, making them unsuitable for widespread discussion in public spaces or social media. Therefore, I approach them in a manner aimed at persuading others in a more palatable way, seeking acceptance and understanding rather than inciting heated debate.


Q: How do you envision the role of the audience within your artwork? What responses or reflections do you hope to evoke from viewers engaging with your art?

As a feminist artist, I aim for my art to contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding gender equality and violence prevention. I aspire to shed light on the realities of gender inequality and violence through my artistic creations, fostering awareness of the severity and pervasiveness of these issues. Through sharp or gentle artistic expressions, viewers can emotionally resonate with the daily experiences and emotions of individuals, deepening their understanding of the importance of gender equality and the impact of violence on victims. My intention is to spark dialogue and debate among audiences, raising societal awareness of gender equality and violence prevention, and ultimately driving social change.


Whisper, 2018. Image Courtesy of Lisha Liang.

Q: Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that continue to explore themes of social justice and equality, and how do you envision these projects contributing to broader conversations within the art world and society at large?

I'm currently delving into VR interactive storytelling and women-centric films, exploring the integration of VR and AI, both of which will feature prominently in my future artistic endeavors. My aim is to collaborate with diverse institutions and organizations on topics such as gender equality and violence against women, in order to raise awareness of these issues. My work will be dedicated to advocating for transformative change in gender equality and violence prevention. This includes urging governments, social organizations, and individuals to take concrete actions to address these issues.


Moreover, I aspire for my art to provide support and encouragement to victims, reassuring them that they are not alone, while also motivating others to actively engage in supporting gender equality and violence prevention. Ultimately, I hope that my art can contribute positively to ongoing dialogues and awareness about gender equality and violence prevention. By shedding light on realities, eliciting resonance, fostering dialogue and awareness, advocating for change, and supporting victims in attaining greater justice, I aim to actively contribute to the ongoing discourse on gender equality and violence prevention, thereby advancing societal progress and equality.


Q: Lastly, Could you recommend any specific books, artists, or projects that have inspired you?

There is an artist I really like recently called Agnes Questionmark.


 

Lisha Liang's multifaceted artistic practice and academic pursuits underscore her commitment to addressing critical social issues. Her work not only reflects deep personal introspection but also engages broader societal dialogues, advocating for gender equality and violence prevention. Through her innovative use of various mediums and her ongoing exploration of interactive storytelling and digital media, Liang continues to push boundaries and inspire change. Her art serves as a powerful conduit for raising awareness, fostering empathy, and driving social progress.

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