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Bicultural identities

The universal language of art speaks eloquently for three artists who immigrated to the United States from nations besieged with conflict: Bosnia, China and Vietnam.

Curated by Barbara Anderson Hill, program coordinator for Tampa's Art in Public Places and curator of the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center from 1991 to 1994, the show is a chance for the public to explore how the artists, educated on two continents, translate their past into the world of their present.

Tanja Softic

In her first bay area exhibit, Tanja Softic presents the most refreshing new work to come here for a long time.

Born in Bosnia of Serbian Muslim heritage, Softic (SOF-tich), 32, is assistant professor of art at Rollins College. She is married to sculptor Thomas Koole.

Her credits include a 1996-97 recipient of both a Southern Arts Foundation/National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship and a Florida Department of State Individual Artist Fellowship. She will exhibit in the Florida Visual Art Fellowships 1996-97 exhibit at the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center May 9-June 21.

Using only black, white and orange, and an occasional speck of another color, she creates a biomorphic world of shapes suggesting shells, pods and seeds _ simple images, yet each is a metaphor for birth or death, relating to her past and present, not only in a universal sense but by reference to specific organic life in both her homelands. Speculum Mundi, consisting of 100 6-inch squares that can be arranged in endless ways, is intentionally disconnected, as is her native country. A speculum is an instrument for examining or reflecting; mundi refers to the world or, as a microcosm, Earth.

Occasionally a piece is striped, in reference to a design common to her Muslim heritage. Despite that, she was raised without religious tradition. For her, art addresses the mysteries of existence. Thus the visible body is only part of Softic's work. The unseen soul has a presence that must be acknowledged to fully understand.

Hung Liu

Hung Liu, 50, born in Manchuria, raised in Beijing, today teaches at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. Her oversized paintings center around figures. The paint dribbles randomly down her canvases as if to show her disdain for following rules.

Her most riveting work is Branches: Three Generations of the Wong Family. In black and white charcoal and oil, it spreads more than 21 feet across one gallery wall. Painted as a triptych, it combines drawings of family portraits _ on the right, photos taken in China at the turn of century; on the center and left, photos after the family came to the United States. Sometimes she shades in a figure, giving it dimension; other times, she leaves it outlined and flat. We don't know whether she singles out figures for detailed treatment for any reason other than to make a more interesting composition, nor if the images are meant to be true character studies or strictly faithful to a candid snapshot.

More than a family portrait, the work deals with social change, from the stiff, sexist order of China (noted by tiny, bound feet beneath the women's garments) to the relaxed and radiant women in an adopted country two generations and 60 years later.

Hoang Van Bui

Hoang Van Bui, 29, came to the United States when the country of his birth, South Vietnam, fell in 1975. He now lives in Tampa, has taught sculpture at the University of Tampa and has attracted critical attention in the bay area and beyond.

His work is simple yet complex, laden with symbols that take on more than one meaning. His work is symmetrical, half north and half south, referring to Vietnam; half east and half west, for the two hemispheres that have both been his home. The symmetry also can be taken as a search for balance.

The kneelers, depicted, are part of Family, a 25-foot-long floorwork defined by patchwork denim pillows in the shape of a house. A traffic cone, cast in bronze, is at the roof's peak as if to symbolize caution and change. The pillows offer comfort; the kneelers, rising above, signify reverence but also place the user in the position of overseer. Fresh flowers in a vase give the work festivity and life.

A bonus to seeing the show is noting the handsome expansion of the center. From two galleries the center has grown to four, focusing on an open, airy entry.

At a glance

WHAT: "Bicultural Identities: Three Emigres from Bosnia, China and Vietnam"

WHERE: Dunedin Fine Art Center, 1143 Michigan Blvd., Dunedin

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday through June 5

COST: Free

CALL: 738-1892

Also on exhibit:

"The Art of Susie Chang: Chinese Brush Painting," through June 5 in Meta B. Brown Gallery; "Detours: The Forgotten Florida," through Sunday in Entel Family Gallery.