Member Spotlight I Mali Wu

Monday, December 19, 2022 8:21 PM | Anonymous


December 19, 2022

This week we recognize   Wu Mali, based in Taiwan, a leading practitioner of socially engaged art. For over thirty years she has developed a distinctive approach to working with communities across Taiwan, in projects that consider rural culture, land use, environmental concerns, and the shifting relationship between the rural and urban in Asia.

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Art as Environment—A Cultural Action on Tropic of Cancer, made between 2005–2007 in Chiayi County (above), is an agricultural area in south of Taiwan. With the help of the county government she invited over 30 artists to reside in 20 villages and together they attempted to shape a learning community through art. This project made a significant impact on local cultural policy and inspired people to consider different ways to activate community building. It also resulted in a series of conferences and dialogues organised by NGOs.

"The piece I did in the 2008 Taipei Biennial is titled Taipei Tomorrow As A Lake Again (above) and it deals with global climate change; as the sea level rises, many parts of Taiwan could become underwater. In 1670, Taipei was a lake and not the city that we know. I chose the title because Taipei could return to that state again. As operators, managers, and planners of this city, how should we deal with this issue?"

"In A Cultural Action at the Plum Tree Creek, 2010-2012 and ongoing (above), a significant part of our work was in fact to develop educational programs with primary and secondary schools. Inspired by our proposal to search for the legendary tree plum, Chen Chien-Hsing, a teacher at Zhuwei Elementary School, wrote a class plan to help students investigate Zhuwei’s ecological history. Bamboo Curtain Studio, my partner in the Plum Tree Creek project, is a respected local organization. They have carried on the work after I left. The Plum Tree Creek project generated visible changes. New Taipei City government started to pay more attention to this waterway, and is now working on a new landscape plan. Previously they never discussed policy plans with local residents; plans were sent to us, and we then, through Bamboo Curtain Studio, distribute the plans in the community. A platform for dialogue was established."

Wu Mali lived by Plum Tree Creek. One day in 2009 Mr. Wu Chung-Ho, a local historian, told her the creek was the mother river of the Zhuwei District. People used to live on the creek (cooking, washing, and swimming). She was amazed, because the creek was filthy. She realized that if she wanted the Danshui River clean, she should work from this small creek, and she started developing the Plum Tree Creek Project with Margaret Shiu and Professor Jui-Mao Hwang. The project was funded by the National Culture and Arts Foundation (2011–2013) and consisted of three components: (1) eco education, (2) urban planning, and (3) local harvest and breakfast meetings. Each component was organized by artists and the action team." Ecofeminism: Art As Environment--A Cultural Action at Plum Creek, WEAD (2014).


Wu Mali    lives and works in Kaohsiung and Taipei, Taiwan. She is the “godmother” of Taiwan’s socially engaged art.  After graduating from the National Art Academy, Dusseldorf, Wu Mali returned to Taiwan in 1985, and started to make installations and objects that deal with historical narratives.      Since 2000, she has produced community-based projects such as Awake in Your Skin, 2000–2004, a collaboration with the Taipei Awakening Association, a feminist group that uses fabric to explore the texture of women’s lives. In By the River, on the River, of the River, 2006, she worked with several community universities tracing the four rivers that surround Taipei.     Her project Art as Environment—A Cultural Action at the Plum Tree Creek (jointly produced with Bamboo Curtain Studio) won the Taishin Arts Award in 2013, the most prestigious art prize in Taiwan. Her  work has been included in biennials such as the 9th Shanghai Biennial, China (2012); 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Japan (2005); and, the 46th Venice Biennial, Italy (1995). She received Taiwan’s National Award for Arts in 2016, and was appointed co-curator of the 11th Taipei Biennale, 2018.  Wu Mali is a Professor at the Graduate Institute of Transdisciplinary Art, National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan.

Featured Images (top to bottom): ©Wu Mali, Secret Garden, 1998, site specific installation at Nan Tau County; Art as Environment—A Cultural Action on the Tropic of Cancer Operation, 2005-2007, a three year project in Chiayi County; Taipei Tomorrow As A Lake Again, 2008, installation at Taipei Biennial; Farmland and the Plum Tree Creek, project with Bamboo Curtain Studio: A Cultural Action at the Plum Tree Creek, 2010-2012; Plum Tree Creek breakfast gatherings; below, portrait of the artist, 2015, by Wu Yi-Ping.

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