Red and Blue, Lalan (Xie Jinglan, 1921-1995). Oil on canvas,146 x 113.7 cm.

MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Stay Angry

Anqi Li

“Is the blue flame fearlessly throwing itself into the fiery red backdrop? Are the brushstrokes some forms of lamentation, or a choreography for life’s finitude?” I found myself repeatedly asking these two questions, as I stood in front of Red and Blue (see pic.1), a remarkable oil painting by artist Lalan (b.1921), a legendary Chinese-French female artist and pioneering figure in the abstraction and art informel movement in early-mid twentieth century.

Even from a far distance and in a crowded auction preview space, I was instantly struck by Red and Blue’s forceful yet elegant persona.This 1960s painting mirrors the complex emotions I have felt since the day I landed in Hong Kong in July of 2019. The anti-extradition protests had erupted not long before I arrived; just five months after, COVID-19 hit and has continued to bring anxiety, pain, and horror to everyone around the globe, including myself. Living through these highly peculiar and trying times forces us to confront many different feelings; in my case, I learned to identify a wider range of anger than ever before. 

Although not surprised, I was nevertheless disturbed when I found out the estimated price of this rare example is only projected to be one percent of the realized price of similar-sized works by Zao Wou-Ki, Lalan’s widely celebrated ex-husband. My mind immediately jumps to many other women who were brilliant artists regardless of their gender, but are grossly overlooked precisely because they were the female partners of canonized male artists. “Guess Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning are not the only women artists overshadowed by their husbands.” Troubled by the explicit biases towards female artists then and now, I posted on social media that night to come to terms with my disappointment and anger. Although it is no longer news that the euro-centric and patriarchal discipline of art history and market perpetually disregards and belittles women artists, narratives still await to be rewritten . 

As a public program organizer, I often see my role as seeing the “unseen” and telling the “untold.” Luckily, I find myself in an organization where my colleagues see promoting female voices as an unequivocally important mission. I was soon able to organize a series of talks, where my guest speakers and I will surface women artists from and beyond Para Site’s current exhibition ‘Garden of Six Seasons’. Another important initiative that my team and I took is ‘PS Paid Studio Visits’, which aims to support local and international communities due to COVID-19 crisis, as well as to discover and promote the voices of women artists. For each studio visit with a Hong Kong artist, Para Site pays a fee and offers a one-month health insurance coverage, and there is no charge for the public to attend as everything will be streaming live online. In the past three months, my team and I have moderated virtual visits with over twenty artists, and the to-go-list is growing fast – while all of them were selected for their artistic excellence, we also try to balance women artists who need more opportunities in terms of exhibition, public funding, marketing exposure, or simply the chance to sit down and present her work to a broader audience. 

For Hong Kong artist Ko Sin Tung’s virtual studio visit (see pic.2), I was especially pleased to invite two special guest moderators – Lee Hiu Ting and Gwen Bautista, who are currently participating in Para Site’s 2020 ‘Workshops for Emerging Arts Professional’. The majority of participants in art industry training programs are females, but the irony is that we rarely see women taking either director or senior level positions in most institutions. Knowing that bigger, long-term changes need to take place, I nevertheless feel proud that graduates of this tuition-free program were able to grow within their own fields, from curating, public programming, writing, to researching. Ultimately, my dream is to see more female leaders piloting the rewriting and new writing of art history – before that day comes, I will stay angry. 

About the Author:

Anqi Li is Curator of Education and Public Programs at Para Site. She is based in Hong Kong.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.

Anqi’s office desk at Para Site.