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  • Writer's pictureSegolene Py

Shantel Liao, 'photography x calligraphy, everything around and between'

For quite some time now, I wanted to tell you about this amazing multimedia artist Shantel Liao (@shantelliao + @caliigraphyonthemove). I discovered her work on Instagram, as I often do, and immediately fell in love with the incredible and very emotional photographs she has taken.

Shantel Liao was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and have been travelling in Asia, Europe and North America since the age of 18: She studied photography in Paris, theatre in London, and the process of tattoo in Bangkok where she practiced free hand tattoo (paint directly on the skin with brush and ink then tattoo it). Liao usually works and live in Berlin but is currently based in Taipei. She first started with photography, taking shots of common places such as building entrances, cafes, tiny libraries... She made a first series called ‘Through the window’, and you will notice that all the places shot are empty.

It made me think about the American photograph Lynne Cohen who, while working on ‘Occupied Territory’, was photographing empty places such as school class or laboratories, places where aesthetics were not paramount and similarly, no human were to be seen on the pictures. Liao then created a series of photographs called ‘Outlanders’ where she portrayed immigrants from all around the world, mainly living in Paris and Berlin. The portraits show people lying in what seems to be items that characterise them, make them who they are.

What really captured my attention in Shantel Liao’s work is her work with calligraphy. She now centres her art on portrait of people - she first writes on them with ink and brush. I love the emotion that emanates from the photographs and the models, I found the calligraphy adds up a dramatic touch. Most importantly, you could think writings on the body can add an information about the character, something that they are not telling the world.

Through her work, Shantel Liao explores the themes of sexuality and gender, but also identity and how powerful it is in the way it is shaping our world. She also does performances, often involving several people where she paints on their bodies while they are performing, sometimes interacting physically with them. Her performances are sometimes videos showing naked women, their bodies covered in writings. In her latest series ‘One Middle Ground’ the models are dancing or moving around very often in water or next to a water source with no sound. The videos and photographs of these series are accompanied by quotes of films, novelist and philosopher which adds up yet another level to her work.

Another one of her recent performances, ‘We Yellow Birds’, also include herself painting/writing on a massive wall, a poem that she wrote about coming back home, her birthplace.

When observing her work, we understand that Shantel Liao has a particular attention devoted to the body and calligraphy, two languages that are not direct but rather involve an audience and their time to ponder and observe. The quest for identity and sexuality is pervasive, but beautiful and mesmerising.

Her latest exhibition from last October at Venue in Taipei is available to see virtually on her website.


instagram : @shantelliao + @caliigraphyonthemove

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