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The work of Taiwanese-born artist YuLiang "YuYu" Liu is not for the faint of heart.
Blending different mediums such as photography, digital art, and performance, his creations are heavily influenced by his own personal journey as a foreigner and member of the Asian and queer communities.
"As a queer artist and as a foreigner who came to Europe, I struggled at the beginning. I use my artwork to raise the representation of each community,” he tells Decrypt. "It's a journey of self-discovery."
In a field dominated by heterosexual males, YuYu's work sheds light on a different voice, one that is both highly personal and enables an entire community to feel represented.
"I use my work to raise awareness and representation of the LGBT community. And I think it is particularly important in the NFT and crypto space," he says. "There is still a gap compared to the traditional art world in terms of representation. I still receive a lot of hate messages from the crypto bros on Twitter."
For this first solo NFT exhibition called "GAG," YuYu decided to completely transform the space of the IHAM gallery in Paris to create an immersive environment reflecting his own identity and journey as an artist.
All of the furniture has been covered with plastic wrap, something also used in sex parties—it makes it easier to clean the place afterward. A dimmed red light envelops the entire space, and is accompanied by an industrial soundscape created in collaboration with the London-based music producer, Marcel Dune.
Three new artworks are on display, borrowing elements from both classical paintings and BDSM culture. Each one examines the power dynamics within modern societies: the constraints of religion, politics, and the self. They were also made available for public sale as NFTs on SuperRare today.
'GAG', my latest collection exploring the philosophical concept of the "tortured genius" can be now found on @SuperRare! 🔥
— YUYU。昱 (@cyber_yuyu) May 11, 2023
"Those are even more personal than what I've done until now," says YuYu. If the humor that characterizes his work is still present, it's much darker, with themes of death and suffering present throughout.
The BDSM references also aim to emphasize the concept of the so-called tortured genius, exploring the themes of dominance and submission and the way the struggles that artists have to face are often fetishized.
Arguably the most striking artwork, “Joke's on You,” is inspired by the silence surrounding the death of AIDS patients two decades ago.
“It's self-reflection," he says. "As a minority, if I don’t speak up for myself, bad consequences will come. It also represents myself trying to fit in the Western world. I’m dressed with these romantic-style accessories."
“I also treat myself as a joke, criticizing the fact that maybe I did something wrong," YuYu continues. "Finally, the setting—with these flowers arranged around the artwork—symbolizes a funeral. It’s the death of the old YuYu, the beginning of a new chapter.”
YuYu's journey: then and now
By replacing his face and body with the existing figure in the classical artworks, YuYu confronts his own identity as an Asian and gay artist with the traditional codes of the European Golden Era, particularly the 17th-century Flemish masters like Vermeer or Rembrandt.
As he explains, his creations "establish imaginative realities designed to shake conservative societal structures and queer art history."
YuYu, who holds a Master's degree in architecture, began his journey in art when he relocated to Berlin in 2015. Working first as a model for photographers, he quickly decided to become a photographer himself. In parallel, he worked with his companion as an organizer for electro parties.
From here, he formally began his career as an artist. He launched a solo show at SoHo House Berlin, was published in magazines and books, and his artwork even became part of the Tom of Finland Foundation's permanent collection in Los Angeles, California.
But when Covid-19 struck, everything came to a halt.
That's when YuYu discovered NFTs and began experimenting with this new medium.
"For me, photography is the easier way to communicate with audiences," he explains. "But entering the Web3 field has opened doors that I could not otherwise have opened. NFTs have not only enabled me to build a global network for my practice, but they also offer new tools to combat the rigidities of the traditional art world."