“The positive message: It is the small things we do, every hour, every day, that give meaning to our lives. Living, simply, like a wave in the ocean that must keep on until it dissipates. The negative message: “It is not God's response to human sins but sheer human hubris that might bring the world to its end”.
- Adi Orphi, Two Essays on God and Disaster
Diana Lui is an artist, photographer and filmmaker of Chinese and Punjabi origins from Malaysia. She was sent in the 1980's at age 14 to further her studies in Los Angeles, California. After 12 years in the United States, Lui moved to Europe, first to Belgium and finally to France in 1998. Based both in Kuala Lumpur and Paris, she has been working between Asia and Europe for the last 20 years. Her transient life between three different continents has developed in her a heightened sense of “rootlessness”. This "loss of self" became later the center from which her art took shape. Consequently, her work for the last 30 years questions the changing definition of cross-cultural identities, past, present, future identities, hybrid identities as well as non-identities.
Her fine arts education in UCLA (University California Los Angeles) and the Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, California) were influenced by teachers Robert Heinecken and Jan Stüssy, prominent artists of the 1960’s Post-Modernist period. Lui specialized in photogravure and platinum/palladium printing under the guidance of Los Angeles master printmaker Anthony Zepeda, Rauschenberg’s former printer. A master with the 8x10 inch view camera, Diana Lui develops projects over several years. Diana Lui’s large format photographic portraits have been compared to August Sander’s portraits of the German people. Lui is invited regularly to lecture and teach in masterclasses around the world with international festivals such as the Rencontres d’Arles in France and Venezia Photo in Italy.
Lui has exhibited in some of the most prestigious institutions in the world - Guangdong Museum of Art, Shanghai Art Museum, Fototeca de Monterrey in Mexico, Museo de Bellas Artes Caracas in Venezuela, Musée de la Photographie de Charleroi(Belgium), Institut du Monde Arabe(Paris), Musée Les Abattoirs and Musée Paul Dupuy in Toulouse, France. Public collections include the Guangdong Museum of Art, Musée de la Photographie de Charleroi, Museo de Bellas Artes Caracas, University of California Los Angeles, etc. Recent private collectors include the King Mohammed VI from Morocco and the new Mandarin Oriental in Marrakech.
Lui was the first photographer chosen for the prestigious new art & science residence in Toulouse, Résidence 1+2 in 2016. She was also a finalist for the Fondation HSBC pour la Photographie in 2008. She received an important grant in 2015 from the George Town Festival in Penang for her project on Malaysian women which travelled from the festival to the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur for the first KL Biennale in 2018.
Please find below small video footage about the artist.
SOLÈNE wants the viewer to explore and understand the world of each artist by entering their studio life, their daily exploration or even a show, a project that has marked them but more generally SOLÈNE’s vision is for the viewers to see what inspire them, their artistic process and what they wish to share and transmit.
Diana, we met in Paris where you now live. Your roots are Malaysian and you studied Fine Art and lived many years in the USA (L.A). Would you like to tell us more about this multi-ethnic culture in your own journey and path and how it reflects in your work?
My work can be read as a visual diary which recounts the multi-cultural stories between three continents where I've lived and travelled most of my life: South East Asia, North America and Western Europe. As an uprooted world citizen navigating between peoples, languages, customs and social codes, I try to decipher these many layered experiences by weaving a visual world that is intrinsically my own. My art has become my compass, a way to find myself when I feel lost or overwhelmed by life's complexities. Whether through the expression of our naked bodies, the clothes we wear, the objects which surround and define us, the environment in which we live, man-made or natural, my artistic research on our socio-cultural identity as well as our origins has become an obsessional life quest.
As a child you were introduce to the Malaysian Institute of Art founder Chung Chen Sun, a well-known ink painter, would you say it influenced your desire to explore your journey as an artist?
I was very lucky to have parents who loved the arts and even though they came from modest families they did their best to expose their children to the arts from literature, music to painting and dance. Learning to paint with Chinese ink was the most liberating form of self-expression for me as there was this instantaneous connection with something invisible which guided my hand, from the eye to paper. I suppose we can liken it to a form of meditation. I forget myself when I am in that pure act of creation whether with the camera or a paint brush. This magical connection between the eye and our hands gave birth to my desire to become an artist.
You are very active in mentoring and teaching Photography to others in Paris but also you are part of Les Rencontres d’Arles, a famous international photography festival since 1970 that takes place every summer. Would you like to tell us more about this Festival, what it entails and brings to the Art Scene and artists and what is your role there?
I am very honoured that I'm still collaborating with Les Rencontres d'Arles as an artist and mentor after all these years. Les Rencontres is a unique festival of its kind, the first festival in the world since the 1970's devoted entirely to promoting and supporting photography as an art form in its own right. The festival organises an average of 35 to 40 exhibitions every summer together with a full cultural program to educate and inform both professionals and the public. The ancient town of Arles is the stage for the festival and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors during the three summer months it's open for every year. My role is to direct workshops and guide and teach those interested in my method how to awaken their "eye" and develop their own creativity using photography. Sometimes I exhibit as well. Les Rencontres together with Paris Photo are the two highlights for anyone working in the contemporary art and photography industry. It's the Cannes film festival for author and art photography. As I also believe in transmitting my knowledge and experience to others, docendo discimus, by teaching we learn, les Rencontres gives me the possibility to do this on an international scale.
Out of all your series we looked at and discussed, I chose the one called "Sensations" because of the combination of beauty, fashion and femininity. Would you like to tell us more about your beginning as a fashion photographer and how it shaped your eye when you turned to Fine Art photography?
I first started my photography career in Paris as a photographer for the press covering subjects that involved making portraits of people from all walks of urban and cultural life. One of the main magazines I worked for was NOVA mag, a French equivalent of Rolling Stone magazine, devoted to the underground urban culture, avant-garde trends and world music. I loved discovering underground Paris that way, encountering unusual people and places during the first 10 years of my Parisian life. I did some fashion editorials as well for different magazines like fashion trend forcaster View on Colour and Double. Though I love working with clothes and accessories, the fashion industry was for the most part a complicated world. I was lucky however to have met wonderful personalities like Azzedine Alaïa who made my career in the press worthwhile. Very quickly, I left the press and publicity world to start a career on my own as a full-time artist. I think my "eye" was shaped more by painting and the performance arts. Fashion was just another way of experimenting with beauty and different materials which has since developed into my recent series on women and their traditional costumes from around the world.
Would you say you love creating series around beauty and femininity and so why?
A world without beauty would be unbearable especially so these days where millions of images of anything imaginable are posted daily on the internet and social media. Creating beauty helps to define and expand my universe as well as keep me inside a protective cocoon. As for femininity it's a natural subject that concerns my personal search for what is true femininity beyond our clothes, make-up and social codes? How has the female body being represented throughout the ages influenced the way women see themselves and their sexuality?
We spoke at great length about freedom and how important it is for you, for one-self and the meaning of it. What freedom is and means for you and mostly how Art and your Fine Art photography helps you achieve this state of mind?
Creating art is synonymous to freedom, but it’s not the kind of freedom as we imagine it. It’s not a carefree freedom felt by a child. It’s a freedom that is born of necessity as there is no other way to be when one has to create. When I create, I am at “one” with something larger than me. I am in such concentration of one obsessional idea that everything else disappears except for that one goal, to finish capturing that elusive image and sensation in my mind. The creative act in a studio or during my travels does not have regular hours or days, at least not for me. The “vision” of something like a whisper always seizes me unexpectedly and then I have to act efficiently to make the vision manifest itself through photography, painting or film.