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Rat Year 2020 I: Counting Down

One of Hung Liu’s final wishes was that her two 2020 self-portraits, both part of her Rat Year series, would enter the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. Liu initiated the series in 2008, seeking to portray herself during her “Rat Years,” which began when she was born in 1948 and returned at twelve-year increments in the Chinese zodiac calendar. As Liu explained, “Big things happen during ‘your year,’” and 2020 was no exception.

The violet-colored panel to the right of Liu’s veiled self-portrait is composed of Chinese characters aligned in a loose grid pattern. They represent the evolution of the character Zheng, which dates at least to 3,500 years BCE, when language was carve...

Oil on canvas and acrylic on wood

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