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Larry Li at Residency Art Gallery


The title of Larry Li’s latest series, Ask Your Ma about ’89 on view at Residency Art Gallery, refers not only to his mother, but also his parents’ friend, Mr. Ma. The year 1989 was marked by the infamous Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, which took place shortly before his family’s move to the States. Li cites the year 2020, defined by a pandemic, civil disobedience, and elevated consciousness, as a turning point in his practice, prompting him to look back to his parents’ time in China. While the artist believes that his Chinese culture was present throughout his life, there was arguably always a large cloud of amnesia over his cultural heritage. Through his show, he aims to combat and unravel that intentional forgetting. Li began the series of oil, acrylic, and collaged paper cut on canvas paintings after a dinner in Beijing with Mr. Ma, who had attended graduate school with his parents in 1980s China. Recounting that turbulent and traumatic moment in history, Mr. Ma turned to him and said, “Ask your Ma about 1989.”

The artist’s subsequent output includes paintings of both monumental and modest scale; they are moody, with dark backgrounds and cinematic-like formal qualities. Li uses both historical photographs from the protests and family photographs as sources for his paintings, thereby merging familial and political histories. 

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Photo: Larry Li, Beijings Lovers Rock, 60 in. x 72 in., acrylic, oil, oil pastel, oil stick, and collaged paper cuts on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Residency Art Gallery.