Dispelling dailyness: Hong Kong mixed media artist Ivy Ma – profile

We take a closer look at the seemingly melancholic artworks of young Hong Kong artist Ivy Ma.

On the back of a win in the 2013 Hong Kong Young Artist Awards and inclusion in an online Artshare exhibition of Hong Kong artists, which was titled “Resistance” and curated by leading art writer Caroline Ha Thuc, Art Radar spoke with Ivy Ma about her fascination with historical tragedy and her lack of interest in daily imagery.

Hong Kong Ivy Ma. Image courtesy the artist.

Hong Kong’s Ivy Ma. Image courtesy the artist.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Reflections on historical tragedy

Ma’s photographic series “Cambodia / Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum / Numbers Standing Still” (2012) explores the dark history of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The series is made up of 11 panels, each of which displays a numbered tag which appears to hang over a human chest. The photographs are hung in a specific order: the numbers are arranged in the Fibonacci sequence. “[I didn’t do this] to provide another way of looking at history; I actually don’t know how to look at and understand all these [photographs],” she says.

Ma chose this subject matter because of a lack of interest in dailyness. “I am tired of the daily images that surround me,” Ma explains. She admits, however, to being unsure why she creates art about tragic or horrific historical events. “When I look back, I guess I am shocked by human beings’ extreme behaviour,” she explains. “We are […] so helpless facing history and history never reflects itself clearly. Perhaps [this] is the nature of history. It is like we look at a huge landscape in mist.”

Ivy Ma, "Cambodia / Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum / Numbers Standing Still" (series), 2012, pastel, graphite and ink on archival print.78.6 x 60 cm each, 11 panels. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery EXIT. Collection of Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Ivy Ma, “Cambodia / Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum / Numbers Standing Still” (series), 2012, pastel, graphite and ink on archival print, 78.6 x 60 cm each, 11 panels. Collection of Hong Kong Museum of Art. Image courtesy the artist and Gallery EXIT.

Inspired by French writer and director Marguerite Duras’ film Hiroshima Mon Amour, Ma was compelled to “deal with the photographs in another way.” She took the name of the work from a long poem called Alphabet by Inger Christensen. In one part of the poem, the poet writes about the atomic explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. In a similar way to “Numbers Standing Still”, Ma’s artwork Walking Towards (2012) conveys history through her re-photographing of an image of the aftermath of the August 1945 explosion in Hiroshima.

Subject matter and self

Ma also makes works “with the things that come to my mind constantly” and, she says, to explore what kind of person she is. “Sometimes I surprise myself [by] how much I need to step into myself to dig out things,” she explains. “I don’t like the process at all as it is a deep hole; you have to go back and forth, but it is the only way I can do it.” In her 2006 photographic series “Perception of Phenomenal Soundlessness”, the audience sees her unclothed body posing in a suitcase placed on snow-covered ground. The work was produced while Ma was an artist-in-residence in Finland.

“I think the word ‘loneliness’ does bear much meaning; it […] describes a certain mode,” says Ma when asked about the desolate mood that is so seemingly apparent in many of her works. “For me, I don’t indulge in that mood, but when I think about doing something minimal and think about a structure or form to apply to the materials, I think the minimal structure itself does show its own [kind of] loneliness.”

Ivy Ma, ‘Walking Towards', 2012, pastel, graphite, ink on archival print, 94 x 170 cm. Image courtesy Gallery EXIT.

Ivy Ma, ‘Walking Towards’, 2012, pastel, graphite, ink on archival print, 94 x 170 cm. Image courtesy Gallery EXIT.

More on Ivy Ma

After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Painting) from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Ivy Ma received her MA in Feminist Theory and Practice in Visual Art at University of Leeds in 2012. Aside from her work as a practising artist, Ma also works as an art educator, teaching at the Hong Kong Arts Center and the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity.

She was represented by Gallery EXIT at Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2013, won the Asia Contemporary Art Show’s Hong Kong Young Artist Prize in the same year and in 2007 became an Asian Cultural Council grantee. Her works are collected by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

In recent years, Ma has shown her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions, among them: “Resistance”, an online exhibition on Artshare curated by art writer Caroline Ha Thuc to accompany the release of her book Contemporary Art in Hong Kong (group, 2013); “Transformation & 8th Anniversary Show”, YY9 Gallery (group, 2012-2013); “Running on the Sidelines – Hong Kong New Media Art Exhibition”, Soka Center, Taiwan (group, 2012); “Numbers Standing Still” and “Gazes”, Gallery EXIT (solo, 2011 and 2010, respectively); “Still Lives and Waves with Artists in the Neighbourhood Scheme V”, Hong Kong Film Archive and Commercial Press Book Shop (solo, 2011); “Rediscover Photography, China Pingyao International Photography Festival (group, 2011).

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

On Ki Angel Choi

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Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, photography, historical art

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