Disclaimer: MA TE, a German photographer posing (pun intended) as a Chinese artist from Xi’an, in late 2019 was publicly accused of sexual assault and misconduct. Please remember that Temper is not personally affiliated with every single artist we cover.
His photos may prove controversial to some, but this sticky ‘n stingy problem lies not with MA TE (马塔 in Chinese), visual artist, per| in se. The photos and prints are an observant reflection of this snapper’s daily reality.
MA TE’s reality is an overall Panglossian and promising one 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.
One visible question remains… How will today’s human footprint affect tomorrow’s humanity?
Print Art: Humble Beginnings
As MA TE produces both pictures and print art, we must take one step back 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: nianhua (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.”
Live it. Learn it. Love it.
Print Art: Reaping Revolutionary Benefits
After Mao Zedong had called into being the People’s Republic (of China) on 21 September 1949, all artistic activity across the Mainland was institutionalized and a number of major art academies — particularly those based in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Chongqing — witnessed the establishment of “print departments”. The quest for a singular unified national visual style in the politically more “liberal” (for lack of a better word) years of the early 1950s, and after the break with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, brought about a revival of traditional multi-colori woodcuts created with water-soluble ink. The high-quality 1952 reprints of famous 17th Century decorated stationery literally displayed Beijing’s backing and promotion of traditional arts and crafts. Product placement at its finest.
During the notoriously dark days of the Cultural Revolution (1967–1976) bereft of all creative existence, poster-sized prints featuring heroic laborers set against that “revolutionary” red backdrop predominated the “art” scene of the decade. Communist symbolism prevailed and ruled the pictorial roost. The posters’ distinct Socialist Realist style (aka the officially sanctioned style of art that dominated Soviet painting for 50 years from the early 1930s) and explicit propagandist message reflected the over-heated political atmosphere of the period.
Then, in December of 1979, Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) switched the lights back on and rang in a new era of modernization and economic reform. Artists cautiously started to explore new techniques, styles and themes as China reopened itself to the global community in the 1980s and 1990s. The arts entered a renewed period of pluralistic development.
And on that note, we enter the 21st Century. With fine visual art by MATE.
Print Art: The MA TE Lookbook
Temper: 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.
Temper: When you think of artists such as Nut Brother (take a look at the man’s latest “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).
Print Art: Future Musings And Muses
Temper: 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.
The steps we all take today will shape the definition of “humanity” tomorrow. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela.