Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Inspired by a service trip to China she initiated and funded while in high school, Carroll School of Management sophomore Angela Liu created a series of oil paintings that comprise her exhibition, “The Power of Art,” on display through Nov. 29 in Carney Hall’s Gallery 203. Over the course of two summers when she and some friends taught ballet and English to local girls, Liu was deeply moved by the students' determination and love for the arts, in spite of their poor financial circumstances. Upon returning to the U.S., Liu’s goal was to share their story of positivity, show the world from their perspective, and inspire appreciation for the privilege often overlooked in American society. A resident of Wellesley, Mass., Liu studies finance and computer science, and is a member of the Dance Organization of Boston College. She spoke with Rosanne Pellegrini of University Communications about the experiences that culminated in the exhibition.

Where in China did you travel, and why were you inspired to work with the local children?

My first year, we went to Duancun in Hebei Province and collaborated with the Hefeng Arts Foundation. During our time at the Duancun school, we taught girls aged 7 to 14. The second year we expanded our program to Naduo in Yunnan Province. Similarly, we taught ballet and English. Both years, we raised more than $5,000 and used this money to buy all of the girls leotards, pointe shoes, tutus, flat shoes, and English children’s books. We donated the rest of the money to the Hefeng Arts Foundation to support its initiative to introduce the arts to underprivileged children.

I did it on my own, encouraged by my school’s [Buckingham Browne & Nichols] community service requirement. I really loved the arts and wanted to give back to my origins and become more in touch with my identity. My parents grew up in very similar circumstances to the places I visited and volunteered at, and always told me how lucky I was to be exposed to dancing and painting—something they never dreamed of doing when they were young.

In what ways did the students you worked with in China motivate you to undertake this exhibition?

When I started the program, I was worried that there would be a language barrier with the students. I spoke Chinese at home and it was my second language, but I had never put it to use in this way before. When we got there it was hard at first, but I realized we were able to bond through our shared love of ballet. We could communicate beautifully through the language of dance. I became really close to my students and emotionally invested in their futures. I was closest with one student, Xuya, pictured in the “Ardent Aspirations” painting. With the help of our donations and support through the years, she was able to get into a small arts school in her area and is currently pursuing her passion and dream of becoming a professional dancer.

My main motivation was to tell the stories of my students. I’ve learned from this experience that art should not be taken for granted. My students, though so young, were so mature and motivated to make their dreams come true—knowing very well their economic circumstances and the world were working against them. They didn’t take anything for granted. I want to use art as a way to tell their story, the realities that they live, and show “The Power of Art” through their dancing and my paintings.

How many paintings are on display in the exhibition? What is their subject matter?

There are eight artworks on display. There are also some videos and photographs exhibited, showing my experiences on the service trips. Most of the paintings were done in the summer after my service trip visits; my students were the main subject matter. Two of the paintings were created in a BC art class I took freshman year. 

How do these works embody the spirit of the Chinese girls to whom they pay tribute?

Through the process of creating each piece of work, I focused a lot on what I wanted the painting to mean. While I wanted to show the harsh circumstances in which my students were living, I also wanted to display the beauty and elegance they exude while dancing. From my exhibition, I think the paradox captures the spirit of the Chinese children.

Do the Chinese girls know about the exhibition? And if so, what do you think it means to them?

The children know about the exhibition. When I told them about it, they were all really excited. I think in a small way, to young girls who were always told that they didn’t matter, the exhibition tells them that they do matter. It gives them hope and reassurance: that art is powerful and can change someone’s life. They made a huge impact on me and how I view my privilege in life, and have the power to influence others as well.

What do you hope viewers take away from the exhibition?

I hope through this exhibition viewers gain a deeper appreciation for art in all forms—dance, painting, etc.

Why do you think it’s important that BC has an exhibition space where students and other members of the BC community can show their works of art?

Everyone has stories to tell; people do it in many ways. Exhibitions allow students to express themselves and tell stories through art. I do believe that art is really powerful, and has the ability to touch people. It's an amazing opportunity and I am really thankful BC is letting me do this!

—Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications