China Underground > China Views > Interview with Visual Artist Ivy Ma

Interview with Visual Artist Ivy Ma

Visual artist specializing in mixed media

Ivy Ma was born in Hong Kong. Her academic training was originally in information science. She received a BA in Information Systems from the City University of Hong Kong in 1996. After working as a programmer and software engineer for some years, she began to study painting in 1999 at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) / The Art School, Hong Kong Arts Centre in Hong Kong and earned a BFA (Painting) in 2001. She was awarded a scholarship by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council to study for one year at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, where she obtained a MA in Feminist Theory and Practice in Visual Art in 2002. She has held several solo exhibitions in Hong Kong and participated in group exhibitions in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Pakistan, and Australia. Her works were featured in the Hong Kong Art Biennial in 2005, she was an Asian Cultural Council grantee in 2007, and won the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Awards in 2012. Her works are in the collection of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and are part of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Complex Art Acquisition Project commissioned by the Hong Kong Legislative Council Commission. She taught at the HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity in Hong Kong from 2006 to 2007. She was a part-time lecturer at the Hong Kong Art School from 2004 to 2016 and has assumed the position of full-time Lecturer since September 2016. She is a course instructor of Associate Degree of Arts in Visual Arts at the Academy of Visual Arts (AVA), Hong Kong Baptist University since 2015.

Official site

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you realize you wanted to be an artist? What motivated you to get into art?

I was born in 1973 and grew up in Hong Kong. My parents are immigrants from Mainland China while they were in their 20s. Cantonese is my spoken language, Chinese is my written language. We all learn English in school from early education. I am a mother of an 8-year old girl. I studied Fine Art (major in painting) on a part-time basis with a full-time job. It was a few years after I have graduated from a major in Information System Degree course and worked in an Internet company. I realized the office job in a commercial company was quite meaningless for me. And so, I started to think about what do I want to do. It was 1999 I started to attend an Art School and immediately got quite indulged in learning more and making more in Art. Indeed, I did not really think about being an artist or not at that time. What’s the motivation behind it? I guess I am always a person quite a space out, but I know I care a lot about life (not good or bad, but what’s value). I question myself about what life can be. I am curious about what relationship we have with others and the world. And, just from the experience of looking at art (no matter if it is a painting or a novel or a film), I purely think I might be able to find something, and I can experience and share something new.

“I am trying to see how a present moment will very soon be a past moment and understand what this means … I’m always fascinated by the distance between the present and the past, as well as how history is archived and presented to us in the now” – Ivy Ma

Working process of Walking Towards. In her artworks she likes to add something and take away something, she actively erases and draws into, disassembling and rearranging

Who influenced you as a person and as an artist? What does art mean to you?

I cannot really think of a particular person who influenced me. But I think, I did learn a lot from several failed relationships in my life. During childhood, I grew up in a single-parent family. My feeling was very detached from the surroundings. These personal life experiences did influence me a lot. Then, later on, when I learn more and engage in art-making, there was a lot of hidden magic from all these past experiences, to bring in, and blend in the artworks. Or we could say, there is a secret linkage that bridges subtly of one-self inner psychic to the outer material world, this means to me a lot.

What were the biggest challenges you encounter in the realization of your artworks?

I could mainly say it was something quite practical – the limitation of time and space. I have never had a stable studio to work in. So, it is always a challenge to get things done, but I guess it is, on the other hand, good training for myself.

“Sometimes I surprise myself [by] how much I need to step into myself to dig out things, 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.” – Ivy Ma

Mother, pastel, and graphite on plywood 2013. Ivy Ma showed her interest in exploring the marginality of different media and materials. In her early works, she used everyday materials like hairpins, thread, wood, cotton, dolls, fresh meat, and candies. In the last year’s, her source materials range from historical images, people in the artist’s family photographs, to strangers in found photographs

You are a visual artist specializing in mixed media works, and you explore various perspectives. Which of your technique reflect you most as an artist?

I think I enjoy most when different media come together along the way – making a digital image through my own camera. I love to find photographic images, making a printout through photocopying. Or printing on different textures of papers. I like making a collage through cut and paste, then mixing with painting pigments on canvas, wood, or linen. I enjoy working with mistakes and the unexpected and solving problems through experiments. After all, there are always surprises, from time to time. Something that is being settled through repetition, might be a so-called technique. It doesn’t matter about technique. But for me, it is more like habit or style, you just know what you can do and what you don’t; what you are good at and what you aren’t.

Does your art have a philosophy message or reflect your personal philosophy of life? What do you want to communicate with your artwork?

I don’t know much about philosophy and I don’t believe there are messages in art. Maybe, “message” is solely not a proper word. As I think I see myself like a “sample” in the world, who is like everyone, from the day we were born, we were given certain “factors”, such as where, when, what, and how we were brought up. Then along with years of growing up, things happened to us, good and bad. Something like rules, like moral standards, always have been pinned in the society, while something could still be able to change, to motivate, at least to review. Making art is a free area that gives us time and space, chances to “shake” things up, to dismantle, to unpack the “factors”, and to assemblage them again. After all, I love to see myself as a “sample” in the world, what kind of person I could become and what do the artworks out from my brain and hands would look like. I am just very curious. And, I am very eager to show my experiences and the excitement of making, and the outcomes, to the audience.

“My work has always had history as its subject, and I am specifically interested in the dynamic relationship between people and the movement of history. How people maintain their own sense of self in the midst of so many events beyond their control is a question I am continually addressing in my work.” – Ivy Ma

New Women, 2020, printed image on rice paper, Japanese pure gold leaf, pencil, ink, and gesso on linen, 194 x 153. Ivy works her way through history to find what we might call “the human thread” running through everything

You navigated topics related to History and human beings’ behavior. You had said that you are fascinated by “the distance between the present and the past, as well as how history is archived and presented to us in the now”. Can you tell us more about this aspect and what is your perspective of the current world situation? How can art, contribute to awareness?

Artists are not the ones who invent things, I guess. So, to-look-back is important. And, the most interesting is always knowing that the present will soon be the past. The future is the unknown. Artists then can link up the three (perhaps as a circle), put them in motion. Sometimes, it is a matter of choice, where and how do we want to locate ourselves and to feel the movement. The world is full of sadness. Yes, happiness does exist but no longer the aim we pursue, as it is more complicated than that. For human beings, what makes us different from animals, is we have science and art. The former gives us facts and logic, the latter gives us opinions and sensations.

Walking Towards, pastel, graphite, printed ink on archival paper, 2012

Is there any of your artwork that you are particularly connected to or that marked a significant moment or change in your life or way to create art? Can you share with us the story behind it?

I would say, the works that I have done in 2012 “Walking Towards”, 2015 “Last Year”, and 2019 “I Did Not Attend My Father’s Funeral”, were significant in my art-making path. I would add that they did not change my life though. “Walking Towards” is from a project where I re-photographed a wall-size photo displayed inside Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It shows a tiny silhouette of a human figure walking on the bridge after a few hours of the bomb. I printed the photo, erased some ink, and then applied some white drawing pigments on the light areas. It was the time I brought tragic moments in world history into my work.

Last Year, Ink, pencil on archival print, 2015

“Last Year” is a project that started in 2014, when I was taking photos of the portraits of young protestors of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, This project, as the previous one, is also printed on papers, but this time, I erased the ink and drew patterns on them more deliberately. They turned out a series of 40 blurry portraits with abstract and expressive drawing traces on them, shown in a solo exhibition called, Last Year in 2015. It was on this occasion and time that I realized the “distance of history” is so close from present to past, and to me.

I Did Not Attend My Father’s Funeral, printed paper cut out on nail, 2020tend My Father’s Funeral

“I Did Not Attend My Father’s Funeral”, I made this installation work the year after my biological father, who I hadn’t seen since I was 3, was passed away. Since I found myself having no “linkage” with him, I decided not to go to the funeral, yet I do have an impulse to deal with a photographic portrait that has been in my family album for many years. So, I used a photo with him wearing a suit probably in his 20’s, that I indeed think he is very handsome. Then I make the same image of him into thousands, printed them and cut them out one by one, then installed them on a wall, each one attached to a nail. It was the time I feel like I was swinging back to my personal history and memories, that past is not past, it is always a room to review and so to make it what I love to call “new memories”.

The pandemic had a huge impact on arts and cultural heritage fields. At the same time, the lockdown has pushed people to make abundant use of art from home thanks to the web. Do you think social media and new technologies are helping art and artists to get closer to the audience or there are new kinds of layers and filters? What is your perspective of art, and what do you see after Covid-19?

I am a kind of old-fashioned person, can’t really catch up with new technologies. Also, I am a bit skeptical while something that is fashionable and popular. Yet, I do have and use a Facebook account and I like to constantly post photos and write a little something. I find it is a good way to keep connections with former students and friends. It helps a lot for an introverted and shy person. After Covid, I found that as artists we are very lucky since we are mostly quite independent to think and to make things in a comparatively (mentally) isolated situation.

The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2022 (IWD 2022) is, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. What does it mean to be a woman artist working in Asia today? Does gender still matter? Are women slowly changing the art scene, or is there still much to do to accelerate the process?

For International Women’s Day, I would like to say, I wish all the women who are still suffering from Gender inequality can be able to gain justice. I think this is teamwork, not just for women, but for all other genders. And it starts from an individual’s effort. It starts with the education of the next generation. It starts from how much we are willing to rethink the system, the structure, the way of living that the society wants us to be, and willing to ask questions and change things that we find are wrong, to begin with.

Photo courtesy of Ivy Ma

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