Editor's note: Ma Qiusha was selected as a Future Great back in 2015, by fellow artist Song Dong. Her work is currently included in Performing Dramas at K11 Art Foundation, Shanghai, and her solo show at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) opens on 17 February 2018.
On 13 March 1982, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China made family planning a basic national policy. I label this ‘One-child Year One.’ Ma Qiusha was born 10 days later at the Maternal and Child Health Hospital of Xuanwu District, Beijing (No.4 Pingyuanli). Twenty-three years later, she would start making autobiographical videos.
In 2007 she made From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili (2007). I was the first person to view the work. From that point on, I considered it to be an embodiment and portrait of the one-child generation. Like the razor blade in her mouth, it grazes the ‘tongue of the times’, stimulating viewers in a subtle, continuous, difficult, faint yet strong manner, revealing scars slowly, like developing prints. That thin ‘blade’ and supple ‘tongue’ are like Ma’s two brushes, dripping with fresh blood, illness and pain, cruelty, love and the warm confrontation within. These are the anxieties, difficulties, loneliness and resentment of only children. But these are deeply entwined with and cannot be extricated from love and hate. Rather, they are relayed with the informal and unhurried ease of storytelling. She is often able to convey complicated, nuanced life experiences with deeply affecting yet simple and concise visual language.
As a member of the first ‘one-child generation’, Ma expressed an artistic ‘sensitivity’ from a young age, evident in Self-portrait Series (1990–2000). Perhaps it is due to growing up in a one-child era, but everyone seems to be an only child, from playmates and classmates to adulthood friends. Combined with excessive doting, people of this generation seem to have adopted a more ‘perceptive’ radar. Ma’s works nearly always convey a subtle scepticism: multimedia, but imbued with a certain ‘soulfulness’. Regardless of whether the work is video, photography, installation, performance, event, painting, sculpture or any other media, there is always a ‘self-constructed mirror’ – the hidden mirror in self-portraits, the lens in various videos or even a window within a painting. Her works contain ‘knives’: a razorblade in the mouth (From No.4 Pingyuanli…), ice skates on concrete (All My Sharpness Comes from Your Hardness, 2011), emotional daggers (Us, 2010). Her works contain ‘roads’: the road of growing up (From No.4 Pingyuanli…), the road of temptation (Token, 2011), the road of death (Star, 2013); all roads come from the heart, with no endpoint. Her works contain ‘light’: the memory of filtered rays of sunshine, covering every piece of furniture in light spots, the pattern of which she turns into a print (Fog, 2011), the light ceremony at Tiananmen Square just before dusk (Twilight Is the Ashes of Dust, 2011), the mosquitoes of summer nights that fly to starry deaths, bodies exploding in a weak flame against electric zappers (Star, 2013). Regardless of intensity, they all burn from the heart.
Currently, China is the only country that enforces a one-child policy. However, 2013 marked the implementation of the second child policy (married couples in which either parent is an only child may also have a second baby). Ma, who became a mother that same year, remains conflicted about whether to take advantage of the reform. She doesn’t wish her lonesome fate onto her child, but whether she has the ability to support a second child remains in question. Within the next decade or two, only-children will come into power, forming the backbone of the country. This ‘singular generation’, unique in the world, is full of unknowns. How will all the repressed feelings and emotions manifest themselves when combined with power? I do not dare imagine. But I believe Ma will create more ‘onechild generation portraits’. She is like a sharp feather, tickling while pricking: within every caress, an ache.
Translated from the Chinese by Philana Woo
When seven-year-old Ma Qiusha’s parents decided that their daughter would be an artist and enrolled her in drawing classes, it is unlikely they imagined that 22 years later that her first teacher – Song Dong – would present her debut institutional show in her home town of Beijing, Address, at Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in 2011. Selected by Song Dong, artist, Beijing.
This article was first published in the March 2015 issue.