Ivy Ma's umbrella movement portraits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 9:28pm

Ivy Ma: Last Year

Gallery Exit

Until February 28

Ivy Ma's latest exhibition is dominated by 40 predominantly black-and-white half portraits of young participants from the recent "umbrella movement" protests. These are the artist's enigmatic portrayal of recent local history and a survey of universal values at times of crisis within an intellectual humanist narrative.

Ma acknowledges her works are similarly presented as Gerhard Richter's 48 Portraits installation of a line of portraits of famous men shown at the 1972 Venice Biennale. Ma's portraits also have a Richter-aesthetic: a homogenous, flat look, but each also has a subtle individuality worked by rubbing the paper's surface and delicate over-painting on the photograph-like prints.

It is inevitable that Ma's portraits may be seen as a memorial or, pessimistically, an elegy to the protesters. But this is too simplistic and too immediate an interpretation.

Time is needed to allow and justify the memorialising of events or people. In an earlier work, Ma presented a selection of death row "portraits" of condemned inmates in the infamous Khmer Rouge Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Instead of reproducing the prisoners' faces, Ma depicted the number on their clothes.

It is powerful documentation, allowing the simplicity of the image and time itself to be the arbiter of her own genocide memorial. Her documentation of protesting students is similar.

The importance of the umbrella movement will be judged over time and by future generations, a view supported in an adjacent work with Ma quoting two lines from T.S. Eliot's second world war poem Four Quartet :

" For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice."

There are no yellow umbrellas on show - the exhibition is a meditative observation of Hong Kong's recent, most divergent political protests for generations.