Early July 2012 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Beijing prolonged Ma Hui’s exhibition for another ten days after an incident involving the removal of her 75 meter long installation of 1500 mouth covers, titled ´Masks´. MOCA BJ was forced by local communist party officials to dismantle Ma Hui’s installation, one of three of her artworks in the museum, after hundreds of bloggers on the web had mistakenly interpreted ´Masks´ as a protest against freedom of expression in China.
Ma Hui was quoted in Dutch media as having been ‘shocked’ by the intervention. ‘I fail to comprehend the reasons why. It all seems a bit childish to me, after all we are dealing with exhibiting art here.’ The incident drew many art lovers to the MOCA exhibition, a group show of four female artists from China, Germany and Taiwan, even though Ma Hui’s name in combination with the title ‘Masks’ had been blocked by the authorities on the internet. Her intention to exhibit the mouth covers was to draw attention the increasingly alarming air pollution in Beijing.
Background to ‘Masks’: About five years ago I walked the streets of Beijing. After a quarter century living in Europe this was the first time I spent the winter in Beijing. I saw a lot of people wearing masks on the street, to cover their mouths. The masks had different designs, colours and was made of different materials. It made me think about my childhood because I used to wear home-made masks to cover my mouth from the cold. From that moment on I started collecting all kinds of mouth pieces. I talked to people about wearing masks and I realized that their function goes beyond a simple meaning. They protect against evil wind, against the cold, against poisonous fumes and also serve to hide one’s face. Behind this small piece of protective cotton worries and fear rule. My video installation ‘The tree wants to rest, but the wind never stops’ touches upon the same subject, human development. The industrial revolution brings trouble, we cannot stop the pollution, it is becoming a dangerous factor in our daily live. Beijing is a beautiful town in my memory but it has turned into one of the most polluted cities in the world. Human development is just like a big wave, we all just float along. The wind continues to blow. Meanwhile we dismiss the passing of time as if we will live forever, without even beginning to fathom its consequences. Never enough. As an artist I feel I have a duty to fight and look for language to stop this disastrous development. To protect others and myself. This installation represents my view of myself, when I was a little child in China. How my identity was shaped through life in the countryside and in the city, over and over again memorizing, contemplating, dreaming of getting lost in an illusion of the past. Dreaming of a far away no man’s land, trying to find the key of the meaning to life. This artwork represents my deepest emotion of not being capable of waiting any longer. Starting today we can challenge and shape the future.