Ma Liuming

Ma Liuming
b. 1969, Huangshi, Hubei
Performance artist
Despite a traditional training in the Department of Oil Painting at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts, Ma experimented with performance even before graduation in 1991. In 1988, in response to the socio-political pressures of the Campaign against Bourgeois Liberalization (1987), Ma realized Suicide Project, which involved wrapping and restraining his body in a white cloth, in collaboration with Wei Guanqing in Wuhan. In 1993 he moved to Beijing where he joined the artists’ colony at Dongcun (East Village), and became involved in the underground avant-garde movement as the community’s youngest member. That year he realized his first solo piece, Dialogue with Gilbert and George. Inspired by a visit of this eponymous artist duo to China, Ma inserted his hand in a crack in the ceiling while standing on a table placed at the centre of a room as blood dripped down his arm and body. The same year, 1993, was also the year of the birth of his transgendered artistic persona, ‘Fen-Ma Liuming’, in which a character (fen), meaning ‘incense’ but also connoting ‘separation’, is prefixed to his male name to create an alter-ego that will feature in his performances, paintings and sculptures. This androgynous persona becomes the neutral ground where issues of sexual identity, the territory between self and others, and the coexistence of contrasting elements (a yin/yang poetics) are acted out. The body is reclaimed as uniquely ‘political and critical’ (Yuko Hasegawa) in reaction to the levelling directions imposed by traditional Communist ideology.
Through 1996 Ma Liuming’s works were predominantly narrative and symbolic. In Fen-Ma Liuming Lunch I–II (1994), for example, Ma connected the act of cooking food to that of consuming sex (by sucking his own, tube-extended penis), hinting at a possible, interiorized fusion of collective and individual selves.
After that performance he was imprisoned for two months, and the Dongcun artistic community dispersed. From 1997, his sitespecific series of performances, entitled Fen-Ma Liuming at/in…, reached a turning point with a performance in Breda in which he let the audience interact by posing in various alienated stances next to him in front of a mirror. Ma has performed in several venues in Asia, Europe and the USA, and has been featured in group shows with photos and videos derived from his performance, including ‘Degenderism’ at the Setagaya Art Museum, in Tokyo (1997), ‘Inside Out: New Chinese Art’ at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre in New York (1998), ‘Aperto Over All’ at the 48th Venice Biennale (1999) and ‘Egofugal: the 7th International Istanbul Biennale’ in Turkey (2001).
Dematté, Monica (1999). ‘Ma Liuming’. In La Biennale di Venezia, 48a Esposizione d’Arte, d’Apertutto, Aperto Over All. Venice: La Biennale di Venezia/ Marsilio, 304–7.
Dreissen, Chris and van Mierlo, Heidi (eds) (1997). Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual and Installation Art in the Nineties. Breda: Fundament Foundation.
Gysen-Hsieh, Beatrice Peini (n.d.). ‘Mihu xunzong: Shitan Ma Liuming yishu xinglu de xueni hongzhao’ [Meddled Traces: Exploring the Footprints of Art Voyager Ma Liuming], Unpubl. article provided by the artist.
Hasegawa, Yuko (2002). ‘Ma Liuming: The Politics of Non-differentiation’. Unpubl. ms.
Qian, Zhijian (1999). ‘Performing Bodies: Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming and Performance Art in China’. Art Journal 58.2 (Summer): 60–81.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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