After Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China “open” in 1949, all artistic activity was institutionalized. Come 2018, this artistic activity has been resumed. It’s becoming individualized and critical of China’s social issues at hand. From Nut Brother’s July 2018 Polluted Water Exhibition inside Beijing’s 798 District to Liang Kegang’s AQ critiques or MATE’s views on humanity… It’s art straight from society’s heart.
His photos may prove controversial to some, but this sticky ‘n stingy problem lies not with MA TE, visual artist, per/in se. The photos and prints are an observant reflection of this snapper’s daily reality.
They showcase a Panglossian and promising reality which at times is sadly affected by a political decision touching upon people’s social environments. Take, as an example, the topic of homosexuality being banned from Chinese television and (subsequently) micro-blogging platforms. The visible question remains:
How will today’s human footprint affect tomorrow’s humanity?
Print Art: China’s Artistic Beginnings
As MA TE produces both pictures and print art, we must take one step back in order to take three steps forward. And gain some sprightly insight in the process. Ergo, for a little more intel on that Chinese print panache… We turn to New York City’s revered MET Museum and cite:
“According to current scholarship, printing on paper was invented in China about 700 A.D., making China the country with the longest history of printing in the world. The capacity for multiple duplications and the affordable price of the printed image have long made it an effective medium for mass communication in various cultural contexts.
A vehicle for disseminating the Buddhist faith and shaping its evolving canon in China, pictorial prints assumed a major role in folk rituals and festivals as their subject matter expanded to include auspicious or protective imagery. Printing grew into a significant art form in the early seventeenth century, when an affluent urban populace became avid consumers of culturally sophisticated commodities, including elegant prints.
Woodblock-printed images have remained a vibrant medium for articulating nationalistic sentiments and sociopolitical commentary through post-dynastic China’s periods of revolution and reform. They also reflect the intelligentsia’s ambivalence toward Western-dominated modernization in art and society.
The twentieth century witnessed the rise of Shanghai as a production center, where a vibrant poster industry developed.
The term ‘popular print’ refers to mass-produced single-sheet color prints on auspicious or protective subjects that range from seasonal celebrations to figures from folk religion and popular literature. Due to their extraordinary popularity, prints made for the New Year’s Festival constitute a special category: niánhuà (年画：New Year’s pictures). Most common are images of door guardians thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the family in the coming year.”
Print Art: MA TE On Color And Politics
A quick one on one with the man of the hour himself.
BnW is heavily featured across your body of work. Where do you find yourself on the “Color” vs “Black and White” spectrum?
MA TE: Contrary to popular belief, black and white are not opposites. Black and white photos are in fact as colorful as actual color photos. When I edit black and white shots, I also need to adjust the contrast of the other colors involved — red, yellow, green and blue. I think black and white simply stand for another translation of color.
Opting for black and white instead of color brings about a framed limitation, if you will. I particularly like working with this restriction given it forces one to pay more attention to shape and structure; in other words, for me, photography is all about limitation.
When I gaze out at the world through the camera, I can feel a unique sense of complete calm descending upon me. I can suddenly see only a small-scale fragment of my usual vision or outlook, which in turn helps me concentrate and provides me with sharper focus.
When you think of artists such as Nut Brother (take a look at the man’s most recent “contaminated water” project right here), artist/curator/critic Liang Kegang or political cartoonist Badiucao… Do you take a political stance with your art?
MA TE: As far as I am concerned, I take no political stance and I have no political or socio-economic motivation or agenda. I am only interested in human behavior. My purest motivation in photography and print art is to let people accept their humanity.
If I don’t take pictures for three consecutive days, the photos will fill — cloud, even — my mind, literally causing me a headache. I do hold some personal opinions on politics, but I don’t judge; I don’t do “good” or “bad”. I just choose to reflect my feelings in the photos — as the world turns.
Whether or not my work can “make things better”, I hope that under any given circumstance it can force someone to rethink, re-interpret their opinions or reactions to life’s events and, if necessary, find a better way to cope with whatever they may have on their plate(s).
Visual Artist MA TE: Future Musings And Muses
Does art reflect what’s happening in China on a socio-economic level? If so, what do you think the (near) future of China’s visual arts will bring?
MA TE: The inspiration for my creations comes from the people and things I have encountered in my day to day life. I am also very interested in history.
My photos may prove controversial to some, but this problem lies not with me per se. The photos are a reflection of my daily reality; an overall promising reality which at times is sadly affected by a political decision touching upon people’s social environments, e.g. homosexuality being banned from television and (subsequently) microblogging platforms.
I have, for example, done some work starring Peking Opera to show people’s misuse of the word “tradition”. Glancing back at 400 years of Beijing Opera, it has always been the men who portray and act out the culture of women. As one traces tradition, one will see how the degrees of tolerance and freedom fluctuate over time.
My photos reflect this and at times this kind of concentrated shooting is like telling other people what dreams I will have tonight. The people I shoot generally are younger (twenty-something) girls, i.e. the future mothers of China. They are brave women. For me, their status quo today is the state of tomorrow’s China.
“I don’t think people need to deliberately integrate into any type of environment; their environment is endless. I like to think my photographic omnibus reflects an emotional documentary and I hope people will resonate these emotions. I want to save these feelings before they die and are lost forever.” MA TE, fine artist.
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Written by Elsbeth van Paridon
Images: Courtesy of MA TE, visual artist
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