By Sydney Mladineo
Empress Wu, directed by Li Han-hsiang, explores a fictionalized narrative of China’s first and only female empress. Her rise to power involved the death of two husbands, briefly serving as a royal consort and raising three of her successors to the throne.
On Sept. 14, Gund Gallery will feature Empress Wu at their recurring “Dinner and a Movie” event. The program engineers an engaging environment in which themes or motifs from current exhibitions are explored. On Thursday, the event is inspired by David Diao: America Beckoning, a collection of abstract, personal paintings that capture Diao’s memories of fleeing China in the 1950s. Attendees will have the option to enjoy Indonesian street food from the Aromaku food truck outside the gallery and watch the 1960 film.
With opulent set designs and extravagant costumes, the film documents the titular empress’s accession to the throne and the allegations of scandal that haunted her throughout her reign. Empress Wu’s character is played by actress Li Li-hua, a seminal figure in several of the pieces featured in America Beckoning. The actress was Diao’s downstairs neighbor in Hong Kong, which unifies the movie selection and the curatorial thought behind the exhibition.
Even though David Diao’s work lends itself to discussions of displacement, memory and self-identity, Director and Chief Curator of Gund Gallery Natalie Marsh felt that screening a production starring Li-hua was the most natural approach for this event because Li-hua’s celebrity lifestyle juxtaposes Diao’s own humble circumstances. Li-hua is a prominent figure in Diao’s autobiographical exhibition, which emphasizes the personal and individualistic nature of Diao’s artwork.
“While we might be able to make some larger statements about class or immigration based on [David Diao] and his story, there is something very special about this one person’s story,” Marsh said. “I think we need to remember that.”
The Aromaku food truck will be at the lawn in front of Gund Gallery at 5 p.m., and Empress Wu will screen at 7 p.m.