Single-channel video, coulour, sound, 3 min 17 sec


The artistic practice project “Mazu” is a combination of video and collage. It montages and edits Mazu-related film and television, festivals, daily rituals, and statue materials to show the cultural memory of Mazu on the island of Taiwan. After the 1990s, Jan Assmann introduced memory into the field of cultural studies based on Habwach’s “collective memory” and Aby Warburg’s “social memory”, and subdivided collective memory into communicative memory and cultural memory. The communicative memory retains the short-term memory of daily life, while the cultural memory is the long-term memory that fixes the memory through festive celebration rituals. In this project, I demonstrate Mazu’s visual symbolism system and how this belief can be integrated into people’s daily life through different concrete forms, and finally constitute Taiwan’s specific culture and beliefs, becoming a unique and lasting cultural memory.

Mazu is a typical representative of Eastern folk beliefs. As the sea-god belief along the coast, Mazu centres on the southeast coast of mainland China (Zhejiang, Fujian) and Taiwan, then extends to East Asia (Ryukyu, Japan, Singapore and other Southeast Asian regions). Mazu was born on Meizhou Island, Putian, Fujian Province. Her real name is Lin Mo Niang, also known as the Mother of Heaven, Queen of Heaven, Empress of Meizhou, Ma Zupo. During the Song Dynasty, temples to worship her have began to appear. Mazu was initially the patron saint of fishermen, sailors, and any professions related to the ocean. Local fishers would generally go to the Tin Hau Temple to pray for good weather and safe sailing before going out to fish. Later, because early immigrants to Taiwan had to cross the Taiwan Strait through the southeast coast, Mazu became their patron saint of crossing the sea to pray for safety to Taiwan. As the people of Taiwan moved from the coast to the plains and the inner mountains to cultivate, Mazu also gradually developed the character of an agricultural god in Taiwan and developed its characteristics. Mazu has taken root in this land and has become a Taiwanese native deity independent of the traditional Mazu.

Mazu originally was only the patron saint of fishermen and was little known in northern and inland areas of China. After the spread to Taiwan, Mazu belief has developed different characteristics from mainland Mazu. Mazu in Taiwan is now a common folk belief that she no longer only protects fishing and sailing on the islands but also covers business such as studying, doing business, weddings and funerals, praying for children. Even before playing mahjong, people will ask Mazu for luck. Today, the various activities held in nearly 1,000 Mazu temples across Taiwan can always be arranged for a whole year, forming an indispensable “Mazu culture” in ordinary people’s lives, a cultural memory with strong folk beliefs. The foundation of the construction of cultural memory is what Jan Asman called the “connective structure”. It plays a role of connection and connection, manifested on two levels: the social level and the time level. In the formation of the cultural memory of Mazu in Taiwan, believers throughout Taiwan have constructed a symbolic system around Mazu through festive ceremonies, statues, and media such as film and television, completing the coherent structure of Mazu culture in Taiwan.

Goldsmiths MA Contemporary Art Theory 2021