The artist and visual designer Yang Liu was born in China and has lived in Germany since she was 14. Through growing up in two different places with very diverse traditions, she was able to experience the two cultures first-hand.
Drawing from her own experiences, Yang Liu is minimalistic in her depictions, playing with simple symbols and shapes. She conveys the opposing cultures, contrasting them cleverly through the use of colour. In the following graphical representations, the blue sides represent depictions of Germany (or western culture) and the red sides China (or eastern culture).
Your East Meets West series has struck a chord with many bicultural viewers. Why do you think it has had such an impact?
The interest for this series was absolutely unexpected for me because it is a personal work of mine; in fact, these images are only based on personal experiences in the 26 years I’ve lived in Germany and China.
What is your opinion on art and its power to influence people’s thinking and perhaps even social change?
I feel that art work has the potential to make people see objects and problems through the author’s eyes and possibly understand his/her perspective on a certain topic. The impact can be long-term, however, and can even trigger social change.
What does identity mean to you – how does it shape your art and sense of self?
The personal identity is always more important than cultural identity. I have even done a book about cultural differences as I still think using a cultural lens in a humorous way is important. However, I don’t think I should become overly concerned on the topic of other people’s lives.
You’ve received multiple awards and recognitions, which one are you most proud of and why?
The first big design awards are of course the ones I am most proud of. In the last few years, I’m more moved by the feedback that I receive from people who have seen my works and supported me with their letters and comments. I received 83 different letters from students in California once, and this really touched me. A group of readers of my book had printed a T-Shirt for me and they were standing in front of my office in Berlin early one morning waiting for me. I am very thankful for all the support; such is the best form of recognition.
Tell us a bit about your background and upbringing. How do you see the world as a result?
I grew up in a 100 year old Hu-Tong style house in the older part of Beijing next to the Forbidden City. As a child, my experiences were beautiful; I grew up with antique furniture and the Beijing Opera. Coming to Germany was more of an accident. My parents wanted to bring me to Germany because they were doing their PhDs there. They told me that children in Germany don’t need to go to school and this was the only reason why I agreed to go to Berlin!
Now, after living in many countries over the past 24 years and living outside of China, I think my world view is more influenced by a mix of cultures and experiences. I’m identifying myself more with cities than countries. I can identify myself as a Beijinger, a Berliner, and a New Yorker.
Establishing Yang Liu Design must have been a big step forward in raising your professional profile. What values does your brand commit to?
Establishing my own design studio was a natural and smooth process. At the time, I had so many inquiries for verified design works, so I more or less had to open a studio to be able to manage all the work. We do work that is content-based, rather than focusing on visual styles, all visual solutions are results of the content. For me, it is also very important to improve my design quality from project to project. I enjoy starting each project trying to avoid repetition, this way each project is a new experience for me as a designer.
Why art? What drew you to visual media?
I was sent to an art school by my mother since I was 5 years old. At the time I didn’t know whether I liked it or not. But this field gave me the freedom and security as a child to not be afraid of things which are different. After I came to Germany, knowing absolutely nothing about the German language and culture, it became a very important communication tool for me. I applied to universities at the age of 14 and received an approval from the Berlin Art University at the age of 16. I did enjoy the freedom very much in the non-verbal world and this experience has also influenced my icon-graphic pieces.
What artist or piece of art do you most admire?
There are many artists whose work I admire and have influenced me at different periods of my life. There will be even more in the future.
What are your thoughts on the rise of China and the often-cited need to bridge between cultures of East and West?
I personally hope with the rise of the Chinese economy that Chinese culture and philosophy as well as traditional Chinese values will be also communicated. An exchange on a mutually-respectful, cultural basis is very important. I hope that with social media and with the new technological development the world will become smaller and help with the cultural differences in the younger generations worldwide also. I guess in the future the cultural differences between generations will be much bigger than between other cultures.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects planned?
I’m currently working on a series of new personal projects, among them are some book projects which will hopefully be coming out to the public soon.