Hua Nian Art Studio

















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This series of masks was made in 1994, my second year in the United States. I was very excited and dazzled by this highly materialist modern world, by various new ideas and the sudden freedom for which I was completely unprepared after growing up in mainland China. Meanwhile, I was also under a shadow of sorrow.

I feel some sadness for my father, a man who seems always content, even in the worst situation. I also feel sad for my mother, who had to stop her career as a promising neurologist in Beijing because of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. For ten years, during the most creative period in her life, she had to work in a small rural town in southern China as a simple medical worker. She is the most self-motivated and self-disciplined woman I have ever met. Although she has never stopped improving herself, she still feels resentment. After coming back from United State as a visiting scholar, she urged me to go to this country to "take a look at the world"–not to be "as happy as a fool." As a college teacher by that time, I was pretty content with my life; I did not understand and was even annoyed by her constant urging...

A picture I saw in a Chinese newspaper kept reappearing in my mind–a group of children, foolish looking, in front of the camera–they were found in a very small, isolated village where over many generations the population had become inbred. More than half of the residents are seriously retarded. Poverty and hunger surrounded them, but their blank and dream-like faces told me that none of them was aware of their terrible situation–only those who had experienced other possibilities could cry for them. It seems that the more you open your eyes to look around and be conscious of where you are, the more joyful you should be; however, the pain usually doubles with the joy.

Struggling between these ambivalent feelings, I found myself being strongly drawn by those African masks–eyes slightly closed, mouth loosely opened, no curiosity, no surprise, no precaution, no desire, no pain, no joy, no pure as a new born baby before opening its eyes to look at this tumultuous world...

Although I know it’s too late for me...

-Hua Nian




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