Jennifer Wen Ma: An Inward Sea

As part of the NBMAA’s NEW/NOW exhibition series featuring emerging and established contemporary artists, the Museum will present Jennifer Wen Ma: An Inward Sea, opening May 13. In recent years, Ma (b. 1973, Beijing) has explored themes of utopia, dystopia, and the human condition in immersive and participatory installations. An Inward Sea continues this exploration, while reflecting deeply on the events of the last year—including the COVID-19 pandemic, extensive shut downs, and subsequent racial justice uprising in the U.S.—and how they have impacted the lives of residents of New Britain and beyond.

The exhibition comprises an installation invoking a moon hovering above a vast sea. In this case, the “sea” is made from black cut-paper waves tipped in gold, that span much of the gallery floor. The waves are reminiscent of traditional Chinese landscape painting and serve as metaphors for the difficult terrain we are navigating through. Above the waves, a projected moon reigns over the glistening seascape. Throughout the exhibition, the moon, like a theatrical spotlight, sets a poetic stage upon which portraits of local residents are projected. The black and white profiles resemble 19th century silhouette portraits, capturing the speakers’ likeness while preserving their privacy and identity, and allowing them to speak freely about their stories of anxiety, trauma, community, and perseverance. The audio and video recordings of local residents will culminate in a database of a personal and collective history for the city of New Britain and the New Britain Museum of American Art, capturing the momentous events of our time.

Jennifer Wen Ma (b. 1973) is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes installation, drawing, video, public art, design, performance, and theater. She frequently creates site-specific works that respond to the institutional or community contexts in which they are viewed. Born in Beijing, China, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1986. She has exhibited worldwide and was a member of the creative team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Much of Ma’s works involve investigations into the constructs of utopias and are inspired by the histories of the places in which she exhibits. Her installations present alluring, gorgeous, and otherworldly landscapes that juxtapose utopian and dystopian elements and invite immersive multisensory experiences. As part of her installations, Ma engages with communities through programs including community dinners that serve as platforms to discuss specific and timely issues, such as social justice and gentrification.