Visitors to TAIWANfest’s online gallery presentation of The Other Side of Mask are greeted with an intriguing line: “When you intend to capture beauty, it is torture to admit that beauty is also the source of evil.”
Created in partnership with 2-D and 3-D animator Walter Kao, artist Lady Hao Hao’s series of images demonstrates there are two sides to a mask. The inner part resembles the colourful imagery of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Lady Hao Hao, a Taiwanese-born artist, first came to Canada as a homestay student in high school. After returning to Taiwan and graduating from university there, she returned to Canada to pursue her passion for art.
The Straight interviewed her through a translator to find out more about this series and a second series of sketches in black and white called People and Mask, which are also on TAIWANfest’s online gallery. Read Lady Hao Hao's responses below.
Georgia Straight: How did you get the idea for Other Side of the Mask?
Lady Hao Hao: I had just returned from Taiwan in February and I was shocked to see the cultural differences on mask-wearing.
A mask is meant to protect people but the mask-wearing has become a way for me to observe the behaviours of people. It’s human nature to self-protect but our behaviours, especially what comes out of our mouth, is sometimes more hurtful than the virus we are guarding against.
People tend to forget to see our own problems or ask ourselves difficult questions because we worry about losing what we already have or what we could have in the future.
Moreover, we don’t ask ourselves tough questions because we don’t dare to open up the darker selves. We learn to disguise words and pretty images.
The most challenging part of this work is that beauty and ugliness have to co-exist. I want to make sure people are attracted to the beauty and discover the hidden message within the beauty. If we can’t reflect together, we can’t move forward together.
Georgia Straight: What are you hoping to convey with this project?
Lady Hao Hao: Every artist is always full of emotions and desires toward the place we live or grow up. Our thoughts and ideas are shaped by these experiences.
The Behind the Mask series is my way to open up deeper conversations for our society. To wear or not to wear isn’t really the question; our attitude toward others is really the focal point.
We are facing these challenges because of our past attitude toward nature or people. The lockdowns and shutdowns are forcing us to think if there is anything we should change.
Georgia Straight: How would you describe your overall approach for creating works of art?
Lady Hao Hao: My approach always starts with shutting myself off. I do that because I have to force myself to be at a height that I can see, absorb, and understand the meaning of the project to then form my artistic perspective.
The process makes me seem like someone with mental issues as I talk to myself a lot and ask myself tons of questions—questions that could be global in context or maybe some new things from Greek mythology.
For someone to see things in the contemporary methodology, it sometimes can be quite uncomfortable. But I excel in this kind of uneasiness and I love the process of developing something conceptually into something specific.
Georgia Straight: How did you adapt to presenting work virtually rather than in-person at this year’s TAIWANfest?
Lady Hao Hao: The artistic vision for each edition of TAIWANfest is always very clear. I was fortunate to be able to work with a former colleague who did the 3-D modelling and a group of computer science students from BCIT who did the transformation to the website.
Together, we turned the two-dimensional work into a 3-D project. If there is a blessing with the pandemic, it makes us explore new ways to do things.
This project would probably be hard to present in a physical art gallery but the virtual platform is the best, as people are able to interact with the work directly through their own computers or mobile devices. I also learned a lot from others during the process.
Georgia Straight: Much of your work is lush with colours. Why did you choose a different approach with People and Mask?
Lady Hao Hao: Sketch in black and white, to me, makes it easier to show emotions in people; everyone has emotions and those emotions are real regardless of their meanings. Sometimes these emotions are discriminatory but we have to face them.
We live in a free society but we often choose to be silent even though it is wrong to do so.
Black and white are quite comparable to right and wrong; there isn’t a lot of separation sometimes.
Georgia Straight: What were you trying to convey with this work?
Lady Hao Hao: I am interested to share with others that we should allow our eyes to see more—see through the surface to find out what’s hidden.
Arts sometimes can be the medium to bring our perspective and reality closer together. I, of course, wish people can echo the spirit of my work so our diversity can be a healthier one.
Georgia Straight: Why is Taiwanese art, including yours, so vibrant and expressive?
Lady Hao Hao: I wasn’t born here and I sometimes found myself limited in the way I express. Language is definitely not my forte. To Taiwanese artists, arts are about telling people who you are and what I want to share. I think the passion and the courteous nature of Taiwanese artists are why they are eager to share. You can easily find that characteristic in every corner of Taiwan if you go there.
Georgia Straight: You came to Canada as a homestay student, but you weren’t allowed to create art where you were living at that time. How did that shape you as an artist in future years?
Lady Hao Hao: When I reflect back on that experience with my homestay, I think it is all about communication. It was an isolated incident.
When I have had the opportunities to see the arts scene in Canada, I have always admired the scope and timeless power exhibited by Canadian artists. I started to learn and appreciate the humour and the connection to nature; these are elements that don’t disappear with time. I think this has a bigger impact on me as an artist.
I am trying to be a Taiwanese artist with Canadian influences.