Jennifer Wen Ma (b. 1973, Beijing) moved to the United States in 1986 and graduated with an MFA in 1999 from the Pratt Institute. Her practice draws together elements and cultural references in sensitive and unexpected ways, bridging such diverse media as installation, drawing, video, public art, design, performance, and theater. Trained as an oil painter, Ma was one of seven members of the core creative team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and received an Emmy Award for their broadcast. Since then, she has increasingly delved into the material and philosophical qualities of the Chinese ink tradition.
A significant part of Ma’s practice involves the application of ink on live plants. An organic material itself derived from plants, ink stunts photosynthesis without ending their lives, and in fact encourages spurts of growth that are made visible by the contrast between the inked and green new portions of the leaves and stems. From 2009 onwards, Ma’s inked plants have developed into a distinctive and increasingly rich artistic language in a series of installations and participatory public projects in Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. Evoking traditional Chinese ink paintings of floral and vegetal subjects, the works also touch upon issues of contemporary society, including human relationships in the media age, globalization, poverty, and environmental destruction.
Ma is a co-creator and the director of Paradise Interrupted, which the Wall Street Journal has described in a review as “a mesmerizing new work that is part opera, part dynamic art installation.” Inspired by the Ming-dynasty kunqu opera Peony Pavilion and the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve, Paradise Interrupted was previewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015 and has since been performed at the Spoleto USA Festival, Singapore International Festival of Arts, Asia Society, and Lincoln Center Festival. Ma reconfigured her production design for Paradise Interrupted into a multimedia installation in the landmark 2016 exhibition “What About the Art?” curated by Cao Guo-qiang at the Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq in Doha, Qatar.
Among Ma’s other notable recent commissioned public installations and projects are Molar (2016), Cass Sculpture Foundation, Chichester, United Kingdom; A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle (2015), Market Square, Philadelphia, United States; Black Beauty: A Living Totem (2014), Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; Alpha Lillstrom Portrait Garden (2014), Nonuments, Washington, D.C., United States; Isle of Enchantment (2013), Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Hanging Garden In Ink (2012), Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; You Can't Always See Where You Are Going, But Can You See Where You've Been? (2009), Dragon Museum of Contemporary Art, Echigo-Tsumari Triennial, Japan; and You (singular), Me, You (plural) (2008), Solomon G. Guggenheim Museum, New York, United States.