Brush & Kink 何为酷儿艺术?

September 18, 2019 2019年9月18日

What makes a work of art queer? Sometimes it’s a touch of camp, a nod to drag, an urge to turn convention on its head. Sometimes it’s a fiery voice, a call to storm the patriarchal prisonhouse of gender. Sometimes it’s a subtler note—a longing sigh, a wary glance, a pained admission of forbidden love.

And sometimes it’s just rainbows and sex. Hui Ma’s work delights in every sort of erotic conjunction, with women and men and trans and nonbinary folk, in couples and singles and groups, all hugging, kissing, touching, rubbing, licking, romping, cavorting, frolicking, and fornicating their way across scene after libidinous scene. There are bodies of every description and shape and gender and hue—especially every hue: the rainbow colors seem to run together, like a pack of Skittles that’s melted onto the page.



“My subject matter is desire and sexuality,” says Ma. Her most recent series, Paradise Lust, with its throngs of undressed bodies, almost looks like an homage to Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights—or better yet, an X-rated version of Where’s Waldo? As in the Waldo books, here too the artist has hidden “Easter eggs” throughout each painting, and the curious and patient viewer can spot the Birth of Venus, the Girl with a Pearl Earring, and various Japanese Edo-period prints, along with the Pink Panther, Sailor Moon, and Captain Marvel. The sprawling, often physically impossible settings are as much a nod to M.C. Escher as they are to the perspectival conventions of traditional Chinese painting.

“我的作品主题是欲望和性。”马慧说。她的最新作品系列《Paradise Lust》(欲望天堂)描画了一群赤裸相拥的人物,似乎是在致敬荷兰画家耶罗尼米斯·博斯Hieronymus Bosch)的《人间乐园》,或是一个成人版本的《聪明的沃利》——和这幅画一样,作者在每幅画中隐藏了很多“彩蛋”,好奇和耐心的观众可以从中看到《维纳斯的诞生》和《戴珍珠耳环的少女》,以及各种日本江户时代的版画元素,甚至还有《粉红豹》、《美少女战士》和《惊奇队长》。向四面延伸、超乎现实的环境既致敬了荷兰版画大师 M.C.Escher,也体现了传统中国绘画的透视风格。

These titillating tableaux, these perverse panoramas, these—what shall we call them?—spectacles of salacity allow Ma to chart the breadth and variety of copulation. Bawdy as they are, they’re also strangely impersonal. Her figures are not individuals, but merely parts of a group, viewed from afar; in these paintings, the most intimate desires appear as a collective, almost abstract phenomenon. This effect is intentional, because in Ma’s view, sex links people across space and time. “I see sexuality not only as a personal experience, but also as a collective experience throughout history,” she explains. “The individuality fades in time, but the flesh, the experience, and the sensation are always there.” In Paradise Lust, she highlights the continuity of sex, rather than its subjective depth.

There’s also a political dimension to her choice. Instead of displaying, say, a single nude woman, like so many canonical works of Western art, Ma seeks to avoid the pitfalls of painting sexualized women, even as she celebrates a certain objectification. “I think it’s hard not to objectify the body you see,” she notes. And that being the case, why not make the objectification more universal, more democratic? “In my series, I depict not only female bodies, but also male bodies and even animals.” (Notably octopuses: in fact, in addition to the improbable and the impractical, the works contain a fair amount of the impossible and the unpalatable.) “I try to generalize the body form, and the fact that sex is enjoyable for all genders.”

马慧通过这不同寻常的景象、挑逗的造型、盛大的人体狂欢,淋漓尽致地展现了性的广泛和多样。然而,尽管画面大胆赤裸,却也充满抽离感。她笔下的人物不是个体,而只是被远观的一个群体中的一部分;即使是最亲密的欲望也像是一种近乎抽象的集体现象。这是马慧有意而为的效果,因为在她看来,性爱在空间和时间上联系着人们。“在我看来,性爱不仅是个人的事情,是历史中的集体经验。”她解释道,“个体会随时间衰老,但肉体、经验和感觉不会。”在《Paradise Lust》中,她展示了性的历史连续性,而不是其内在的深度。

她在创作时也加入了一定的政治色彩。比方说,她没有像大多数传统西方艺术一样,为了男性观众,特意描绘单身女性的形象,因为她试图打破“男性凝视”(“male gaze”,一种把女性定位于被看者,置于男性凝视主控操纵的现象,译注)的做法,尽管她也表现了一定的人格物化。“我认为不将你所看到的身体物化是一件很难做到的事情。”她说。既然如此,为什么不试着把“凝视”变得更普遍,更民主?“在我的作品中,我不仅画了女性的身体,还会画男性的身体,甚至是动物。”(尤其是章鱼:事实上,作品中除了完全不可能的事物之外,还含有相当数量的令人难以置信和不快的事物。)。“我试图让身体的形态概念化,让人们知道,性爱对所有性别的人来说都是一件快乐的事情。”

Ma grew up in Beijing and now lives in New York, where’s she’s working on her MFA at the School of Visual Arts. Her international education lets her draw on techniques and influences from both China and the West. “I studied Chinese traditional painting when I was little,” she says. “The way that water and ink interact with rice paper still fascinates me. I love its immediacy, its abstractness, and especially how the brush strokes illustrate power and passion.” It’s also an ideal vehicle for her themes. “The water-based medium is perfect for depicting the sensation of fantasy.” Like watercolors, desire rarely stays within fixed lines.

Sexuality has been a topic of fascination since she was a child—mostly, she says, because no one talked about it. She recalls searching for information about sex from Chinese romantic novels, only to be surprised to discover, much later, that her own experiences were nothing like the ones she’d read about in books. A curiosity about the gap between desire and reality drives her art today.



Paradise Lust is not entirely realistic,” she says, revealing a fondness for understatement. The setting seems to be a series of pleasure gardens whose occupants luxuriate among Greek columns, palm trees, and arches. According to Ma, though, the scenes take place not in some classical locus amœnus but on an eighteen-story rocket ship: each of the paintings in the series corresponds to a different level, as it charts its course to a pansexual Fire Island in the sky.

“《Paradise Lust》不完全是现实的。”她轻描淡写地说道。画中的背景似乎是一个个乐园,画中的人物在希腊石柱、棕榈树和拱门之间纵情享乐。马慧解释,这些场景并未发生在传统的乐园之地,而是在一艘十八层的火箭飞船上:系列中的每幅画都对应不同的楼层,一层层堆叠,构筑出空中的一个泛性恋的孤岛。

Otherworldly scenes like these may seem far removed from our terrestrial life, but Ma insists that fantasy can shape reality. For one thing, the variety of bodily entanglements suggests an equal variety of power dynamics. “The bedroom can be political too,” she says. “Who has the power in bed, who is taking charge? In a way, it defines the power dynamic in a couple. A queer woman could potentially break the gender binaries, and achieve equality in bed. Different positions give different kinds of pleasure without the necessity of defining who’s dominant.” 

Blending the carnal and the carnivalesque, and folding in a strong dose of politics, Ma’s works are a celebration of desire in all its forms. They may not be realistic, but since when are desires confined to the limits of the possible? As that rocket blasts off, you almost wish you, too, could leave the earth behind for a while, and hitch a ride to Ma’s cosmic queer utopia.

To see the entire series as a single, unbroken image, click here.




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Contributor: Allen Young
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li

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Instagram: @notyourcockroach


Contributor: Allen Young
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li

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