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Voice of The Month (10) : Dr. Ma So Mui - A Guardian Angel of Traditional Chinese Architectural Decorations

by Siu Kam Han

Voice of the month-Ma So Mui: About Us

Dr. MA So Mui was always engaged by her teaching and research. Therefore, she took exhibitions as chances for expressing her daily life experience. “My work is my diary,” she said. Her earlier work was experimental and inspired by nature, daily life or other artists’ work. They are representational and easy to be read by the viewers.
She stated that titles of her work were important hints. Let us look at her work Portrait (1994). It is a sculpture of a head with a sad face. How weepy and sentimental was suggested by the curvy lines and runny glaze. One can imagine in the process of sculpting, noticing and acknowledging her sorrow, the artist was cutting off clay bits by bits from a chunk, until it was finished. She was then comforted and let go her sorrow.

Her Door series in 2007 is a sculpture with dual sides of symbolic traces of her daily objects. My Entertainment余之樂was her Chinese rosewood cabinet for DVD player and DVD and depicted her pastime activity. She made joke of her subconscious tension and the consequent nightmare she had though the work I have nightmares about losing my ‘clothes’ 夢魘中常失去所「衣」(衣 [依 reliance]).

Her recent work is more focus on conservation of old buildings. The Inferior Light百姓點燈(2010), a series of architectural work with dim light inside, depicted local vernacular buildings that will soon be vanished. It is not only a metaphor for the oppressive officers, but also a protest on the excessive development of the society.
Hong Kong being an “international” city, Ma worried that excessive development was defacing its Chinese origin and gave rise to identity crisis of young people. Culture recognition was stressed and a continuous review of our history, culture and political situation was necessary. Therefore, Ma put a lot of effort in researches and educating people on treasuring our cultural heredity through shedding a light on the roof decorations on traditional old buildings.

Being a well-known expert on this issue, Ma wrote articles and books for extensive exposure of the issue. These roof decorations carry symbolic meaning and system of ceremonial practice. As a scholar in visual art, she was writing them in a systematic way, analyzing the decorations not only in visual appearance with reference from Cantonese opera, Chinese legends and classic novels, but also paid attention to the social and political situation at the time the buildings were built. The articles and books are all well photographed and illustrated in a reader friendly way.

Her book Wishes on the Roof屋脊上的願望included not only a concise study on the roof decorations of traditional Chinese buildings in Hong Kong and China, but also in collaboration with her students in the Hong Kong Institution of Education in applying relevant information in thematic teaching. Various teaching approaches for creative learning were introduced and tried out.

Ma was pushing her boundaries by kicking off a project on studying the architectural ornaments on traditional old buildings in Ping Shan. The concise illustrated book 香港屏山古建築裝飾圖鑑was published recently and she is working hard on the second book now.

Voice of the month-Ma So Mui: Text
Voice of the month-Ma So Mui: Gallery
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