Tate Modern

Ma Liuming

Blavatnik Building Level 3

Ma Liuming, Fen Ma Liuming, 1993. © reserved

Ma Liuming investigates social boundaries and gender identity through his performances

The photographs in this display document performances by Ma Liuming that took place in the artists’ community of Dongcun (‘East Village’) in Beijing. In the early 1990s the area was known for its experimental art, especially performance art.

Ma created a cross-dressing alter-ego, Fen-Ma Liuming. He said at first this was ‘just quite simply to appear as a woman’. He soon developed the idea and started performing naked while wearing facial makeup. In doing this, Ma investigates how gender is perceived by others. He said, ‘What is the real border between man and woman? What makes a man a man and a woman a woman?’

For his Lunch performances, Ma, as Fen-Ma Liuming, cooked for an invited audience. In Lunch I the artist cooked and served a fish. He then attached a long tube to his penis and sucked at the other end. He said ‘I wanted to circulate my yang (my masculinity) with my yin (my femininity).’ After cooking potatoes in the courtyard of an East Village house for Lunch II, Ma was arrested, along with other artists and audience members. He spent two months in prison for ‘conducting obscene performances in the name of art’.

Audiences were encouraged to take pictures and film Ma’s performances. He said, ‘The idea behind recording performances was to be able to show them in the future... the fundamental problem of performance art is how to document it. This is an issue that can’t be avoided.’

Curated by Sarah Allen and Emma Lewis


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