Logo der Universität Wien

Ma Desheng

Ma Desheng (2014 in his studio in Paris)

Ma Desheng was born in 1952 in Beijing. He is a poet, a painter, a performer, a calligrapher and a woodblock print maker. He also became a key figure in the "Beijing Spring" democracy movement of 1978-1981. A childhood polio disease left him with a handicap, his wooden crutches would later become his trademark when he appeared in public together with his fellow artists.

In 1971, Ma was assigned a post as an industrial draftsman in a machinery factory in Beijing, where he obtained important manual precision skills, but his dream was to become a trained artist. When he applied to study at the just re-opened Beijing Academy of Fine Arts though, he was bluntly rejected due to his physical handicap (which was at that time still a general obstacle to being admitted to a university or college).

Hence Ma Desheng started to make woodblock prints, and he joined a course for amateur artists at a workers' cultural center in Beijing. There he met and became friends with Huang Rui who also was a self-tought artist. Huang Rui was responsible for the layout and illustrations of the independent journal "Today" (Jintian) that just prepared its first edition. He introduced Ma Desheng to his collegues. Ma was subsequently invited to contribute woodblock prints and some of his lyrical texts for the new magazine.

Ma Desheng also became a founding member of the "Stars Artists Association", he took part in the exhibitions and also in the famous street demonstration for political and artistic freedoms on October, 1, 1979, holding a speech and wielding his wooden crutches during the march.

In 1982, Ma also started his own style of ink wash paintings, but in 1983 he was personally targeted during the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign (when Western influences on Chinese arts also got ctriticized). Ma Desheng saw no future any more in China, but it was only in 1985 that he managed to obtain a passport. He first traveled to Switzerland, in 1986 he moved to Paris. He was invited to exhibit his ink work in galleries and museums (and recite his poems) all over Europe and North America, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Ma Desheng's life and artistic career was tragically interrupted in 1992, when in a car accident in the US, his companion Barbara Holstein (a neurologist from Germany) was killed, and he himself suffered serious injuries that left his arms and legs completely paralized at first. It took two years of special treatments and therapies in hospitals before Ma could partly use his arms and a few fingers again, just enough to hold and move a thick paintbrush and restart some artwork.

Sitting in his wheelchair, Ma Desheng meanwhile spends several days a week again painting in his Paris studio, but he still needs daily assistance from nurses and doctors. He continues to write poems, and he is regularly invited to recite them with with his powerful voice to public audiences. 

Here you can read more on Ma Desheng.

Interview with Ma Desheng (on April 24, 2014 in his studio in Paris)

Here you find the Chinese text of the interview (an English translation will be provided later).


University of Vienna

Universitätsring 1
1010 Vienna
T: +43-1-4277-43840
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0