Portrait of America

Lily & Honglei

"Portrait of America" installation

"Portrait of America" installation

Installation detail

Installation Detail

Media: installation, animation projection and drawings

Producing year: 2003-2009

Size: varied (depending on available space)


The installation’s construction is inspired by portrait art kiosk found in many shopping malls in America. The walls of the installation are made up of hundred celebrity portraits, while the inside is left for projection of animated film created by Lily & Honglei. Audience can peep through a few hollow frames on the walls, as well as walking inside to watch the video. During the opening, Honglei is conducting a performance by drawing a popular figure in American culture inside the installation.

Both video and portrait components reveal how the mainstream ideology impacts another cultural group’s everyday life and traditions, such as lives of Chinese diaspora in America. The spatial relationship of the installation implies that the effect of Americanism may be obvious on surface, however, our inner struggle for displacement, desire and identity remains crucial.

In order to survive, many well-trained Chinese artists make living by producing portraits in shopping malls or on street in America. With their superb drawing technique that they obtained from art schools in China, which provide training fundamentally for propaganda purposes, those Chinese artists can produce amazingly realistic portrait art for customers, some purchase the works for family events, or in memory of deceased relatives, while more people buy celebrity portrait as a gift or home decoration during holidays. Still, the work can be considered a ‘Social Realism’ art practice, and maintains the function of glorifying public idols, although now serving a consumer culture instead of socialist leadership.

Composed with oil paintings and displayed inside the installation, the video unveils live stories of Chinese immigrants in America. It is viewable at: http://lilyhonglei.com/mangoTree