Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei

It is such a privilege and a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a major international exhibition featuring the late pop icon Andy Warhol and political artist Ai Weiwei. Being the two of the most significant artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, I was so thrilled when I first heard the news (a year before the start of the exhibition) that the National Gallery of Victoria has teamed up with The Andy Warhol Museum, in cooperation with Ai Weiwei, to organise such event.

The major exhibition explores the influences of both artists in modern art and contemporary life, which focuses on the parallels, intersections and points of difference between the two artists’ practices. Due to transportation, gallery’s area and other limitations to consider, not all iconic artworks of the artists have been exhibited at NGV for this particular event. Nevertheless, over 300 artworks of both artists’ significant contributions that delivered evocative messages were curated, which lead to my cultivation towards their remarkable life-long journeys. (National Gallery of Victoria)

I’ll start exploring the journey of Andy, who’s art I’m the least a fan of amongst the two. Ai’s extensive, massive and evocative installations beat Andy’s flat, complacent and mass-produced paintings. Ai’s works cover as far back as Ancient China up to the latest societal issues. But to be fair, Andy’s audacity and unconventional art practices have defined a new era of revolutionary artists and may have majorly contributed to Ai’s bold, dissident style.

Andy Warhol

andyAndy Warhol carrying a Brillo Soap Pads Box photograph by Billy Name

I first heard of Andy Warhol when I got into Advertising. I wasn’t talking about the time I majored in the field in college, but the time I got really interested in the history and admired the glory days of the industry back in mid-40’s. (cue Mad Men’s theme – TV Series) One of Andy’s famous paintings is called the Campbell Soup Cans (1962) series in which he hand-painted each can of the product, arranged each variety according to its date of release, and observed uniformity through merchandising in grocery shelves.

Warhol.-Soup-Cans-469x292Image Source: MoMA

The Campbell Soup Cans (1962) is the epitome of Andy’s style when it comes to paintings. Detailed, commercial, low-cost, and mass-produced, similar to the popular products he took inspirations from. His silkscreen medium allow him and his assistants to instantly produce similar huge paintings in a short period of time.

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Another famous series of paintings by Andy is his tribute to the late Marilyn Monroe, which he created after the iconic actress’ death. He used a single photograph from the 1953 film Niagara as reference to re-create an entire series as a form of “..memorial and as a reflection of the media’s insatiable appetite for celebrity and tragedy.” (NGV Label of The Three Marilyns 1962)

MarilyndiptychImage Source: Wiki 

The Marilyn Diptych (1962) contains fifty images of Marilyn Monroe. Twenty-five images on the left are brightly coloured while the other twenty-five are in black and white, that suggests the relation between the celebrity’s life and death. The particular painting above is currently owned by Tate and unfortunately was not part of the NGV Exhibit.

IMG_6169Andy Warhol – Filmography 

Most people would associate Andy with the expression “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and his popular talk show “Fifteen Minutes” which aired from 1985-1987. Through my readings, I’ve seen at least three different interpretations for this famous expression:

  1. German art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh suggests that Andy’s style invalidates the hierarchies worthy to be represented, and once abolished, will be an opportunity for everyone to be famous; Or
  2. Fifteen Minutes represent the limited time a celebrity can only be famous; Or
  3. Due to the technological advancement and level of accessibility of today’s society, anyone can actually be virtually famous. (Wiki: Fifteen Minutes of Fame)

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I also came across different articles refuting the expression’s origin to be the words of Andy. The critics have suggested that the famous phrase was actually taken from the text of an exhibition brochure written by the curator rather than Andy himself. He tried to honestly confess the truth through interviews but it was too late. The society has already branded the expression as his and still continue to do so today.

Screen Tests (1964)

Throughout his career, celebrities, poets, musicians, socialites and other personalities posed for a short film at his legendary studio in Manhattan, the Silver Factory. The films capture the actions of the subjects at natural state and let the viewers interpret whatever narrative they desire.The Silver Factory has attracted many prominent people and has become a space for Andy’s social scene. In a span of two years, Andy has shot over 500 Screen Tests, which he prolonged to imbue a dreamlike stillness. Some of these prominent people include: Cass Elliot, Ann Buchanan, Bob Dylan, Donyale Luna, Billy Linich and Jane Holzer.

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Silkscreen Paintings of Mao (1970’s)

Andy’s repetitive paintings of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong portrays media’s proliferations of the image and advertising’s promotion of consumers’ desire and identification. Andy created these paintings during the height of cultural revolution in China that has been a global media spotlight. Andy’s numerous works of Mao portray him as a pop-cultural icon during his time.

Andy’s other silkscreen paintings throughout his career that defines today’s definition of pop-culture.

The core of Andy’s career is the portrayal of American’s consumerism: Inexpensive, low-cost, mass-produced, charismatic and popular. His means and the final products of his works both satisfy his core, which are clearly seen through his inspirations and the media he utilised.

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Andy’s painting of Coca-Cola first appeared in 1961. Six years later, he coated Coca-Cola bottles with silver paint as representation of source material. Three years more,  Coca-Cola Company responded with a cease and desist letter when he expanded his project to 100 bottles and filled it with his own You’re In / Eau d’Andy’ (1970). Get it? You’re In…

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Andy did not only focus on the glamorous lifestyle of popular products and celebrities. One of his thought provoking artwork tackles the clash of American Dream and violence in America. Incorporating a tabloid style, gloomy and sombre, Andy replicated the photograph from a newspaper with a headline ‘Did a leak kill … Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown?’ referring to the two women killed due to expired canned tunas. In Tunafish Disaster (1963), Andy portrayed how consumer products actually failed its consumers.

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In Silver Clouds (1966) and Cow Wallpaper (1966), Andy expands his artistic style to a theatrical scale by offering an immersive experience that encourages participation through floating metalised polyester films propelled by air currents floating from the walls into space itself. This particular installation exemplifies his fascination with serial production and repetition of pop-cultural imagery. Andy’s deployment of modern manufacturing techniques served as an introduction to a whole new era of art installations.

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Ai Weiwei

A Chinese contemporary artist and activist, I first heard of Ai Weiwei during the preparation of Beijing 2008 Olympics when he collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron in designing The Birds Nest.

birds nestImage Source: MondoArc

However, my interest in Ai Weiwei’s life only began in 2011 when the international media caused a stir on his arrest at the Beijing International Airport. Initially reported as arrest due to incomplete presentation of documentation for travel, the media uncover his alleged tax evasion case. Ai Weiwei has been known for his online presence writing social commentary and criticising government policies aside from sticking to his autobiographies and thoughts on art and architecture. He has always been known for his bold and unapologetic nature which are then transmitted through his art.

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Personally, I believe that Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (2015) is the quintessential artwork of Ai Weiwei. As one of his iconic works captured in both in video and photographs, this particular performative action of holding, dropping and smashing a cultural heritage clearly demonstrates his critical engagement with China’s violent cultural tradition. It draws attention to the continuous desecration of cultural heritage. As shown in the photograph, these images were re-created in plastic blocks representing pixelated forms for the distribution of his powerful message in the digital platform. He originally wanted to use Lego blocks for his other works as well but the company refused to participate in his political activism.

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During the dynastic changes in China in an attempt to erase the past and start over with the new regimes, much of Buddhist statues dating from the Northern Wei (386–535 CE) to Northern Qi (550–577 CE) dynasties were looted and only a few pieces survived today. In Ai’s Feet (2005)he sculpted stone feet on these remaining statues to show that the past cannot easily be erased and eventually catch up with the present.

IMG_6084With Flowers (2015)

At some point in his life, his audacity lead to his detention for 81 days. Every morning, he placed a bunch of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his studio and captured it on camera as a form of protest against his restriction to travel. He has posted images of these flowers on social media which emerged a movement called Flowers of Freedom.

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Ai Weiwei created this series in another art form through Bicycle Basket with Flowers Porcelain (2015) and Blossom (2015), this time, to protest against the restrictive rights of people through speech and human-rights. He collaborated with the skilled porcelain craftsmen from Jingdezhen province, whose predecessors once produced the highest quality of porcelain in Ancient China. Through this complex project, he has provided temporary employment to hundreds of people, whose livelihood has been declining through the years.

IMG_6087Blossom (2015) Bed of flowers made of porcelain

Ai Weiwei’s projects do not only focus on his bold actions against government policies and protests against restricted human rights, but he also continuously provides livelihood to the very victims of injustice. 

ai-weiwei-ruptures-faurschou-foundation-002Image Source: AI WEIWEI: RUPTURES MAR. 20TH – DEC. 22ND AT FAURSCHOU FOUNDATION COPENHAGEN

Another perfect example would be the Sunflower Seeds (2010) which he created for his simple yet poetic exhibition. The extensive project has been collaborated again with approximately 1,600 skilled artisans of Jingdezhen producing over 150 tons of man-made Sunflower Seeds out of porcelain. Each piece have been individually hand-painted comprising of 2-3 strokes per side by the locals of the community and the entire project lasted for two and a half years.

Ai-Weiwei-Sunflower-Seeds-Still-from-Tate-video-9Image Source: Ai Weiwei Seeds

An excerpt from Ai’s Sunflower Seed’s website – Ai Weiwei Seeds – perfectly expresses the multiple yet simple meaning behind this project:

“For Ai Weiwei, ‘Sunflower Seeds’ is one piece of art that is composed of 100 million pieces of art. As a singular tiny sculpture, every seed is submerged by a hundred million ones with subtle nuances, similar yet each unique, just as 1,600 workers in Jingdezhen performing repetitive duties; as 1.3 billion Chinese, silent in the crowd; as every fragmented individual in this digital era. Through a sunflower seed, Ai Weiwei triggers a Domino effect, enlarging the lengthy, complicated and exquisite process by 100 million times. Devoting unimaginable patience, time and energy, he brings into focus the significance of individuals, and the imposing strength when they gather together.”

The video below shows the extensive and laborious process each Sunflower seed went through for this project:


Video Source: Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds by Tate

 Ai retells his detention for 81 days back in 2011 through a series of dioramas entitled S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes (2011). The acronym stands for  Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy and Doubt, which are the six parts of this series that are all made of fibreglass. It depicts scenes at the cell where he was imprisoned without charges that serve as evidences of oppression, denial of personal freedom and loss of dignity, he and several victims went through.

IMG_6141One of the dioramas in the series. It clearly portrays his lack of privacy and dignity throughout his time at the detention cell.

Ai do not only portray his messages through sculptures, print and dioramas, but he also take in consideration the type of material used in each masterpiece to deliver his evocative messages.

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In Surveillance Camera (2010), Ai’s practice of incorporating traditional materials in addressing contemporary cultural issues is evident. By using traditional marble to portray the elevated status of a significant artefact in this particular sculpture, this piece is very personal to Ai that relates back to his confinement at his studio while all his actions were being monitored.

handcuffsHandcuffs (2015) were both sculpted in jade and in wood. Jade is considered to be the most precious stone in China. Historically speaking, jade is worn only by the members of imperial family. Ai portrays the similar cuffs he wore during his imprisonment to address contemporary issues in the government.

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If there’s one project that clearly defines Ai Weiwei’s character and controversial career, I personally believe it’s the Study of Perspective (1993-2005). As seen in every photograph, Ai is giving a finger in every iconic location around the globe to express his disdain for authority. His audacious behaviour and poetic forms of powerful communication have inspired a new generation of artists in the 21st Century.

Andy Warhol x Ai WeiWei

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Some exhibits showcase a parallel in artistic value and in speaking social context beyond the world of art. In Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo (2007), Ai portrays a pop-cultural imagery through the influence of Andy by painting a Chinese artefact and branding it with a logo that represents American capitalism.

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Myths are traditional stories explaining historical events or natural and social phenomenons. Ai and Andy both explore these myths through cultural archetypes from two different parts of the world. Circle of Animals (2010), is a reinterpretation of the twelve zodiac heads ransacked by French and British troops. It functioned as a water clock–fountain in the European-style gardens of Yuanmingyuan palace. “Ai focuses attention on the ethics of looting and repatriation, the role of the fake and the copy and power relations between China and the West.” (Source: Circle of Animals label)

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On the other hand, Andy presents the cultural archetypes in the American popular culture through a series of silkscreen paintings that run from Uncle Sam to the superstardom of Hollywood screen siren Greta Garbo and the innocent charm of Mickey Mouse. (Source:Narrative, myth and memory label)


Further Readings:

Black Market Havoc and Mayhem

It was a good day to work in the office. Sunny and windy that uplifts every spirit of passersby on the street of the busy metropolitan.

Inside my walk-in cabinet in my fully-furnished apartment, I just had my morning bath and barely finished dressing up. It was a very exciting day. On the fortnight of our last meeting, I get to see my guy again. My best friend. My lover. More than a year later and we’re still excited to see each other. The spark never fades away and the feeling of twitter patting never fails to visit us.

I, a woman of the world of creativity and manipulation in communication fell in love with a man who is a financial genius.  I never really understood his world. Accounting, financing, marketing, business, management, stocks… stuff I find myself to be an alien every time I hear him speak about it. But despite our difference in career interests, we were more alike than anyone could imagine.

Suddenly, a grayish tint with silver sparks appeared right before my eyes and instantly he, in purple long sleeves with dark-colored tie and black slender pants, came out of thin air. It still surprised me even if it was his usual form of entrance. He’s kind of a warlock or some sort. Well, that’s something still I’m not sure how to define.

In my topless gold and blue knee-length cocktail dress and gold stilettos, he wore his rectangular spectacles and dragged me in an instant. Both of us disappeared from my apartment. This kind of act reminds me of Harry Potter’s floo powder that allows wizards to teleport by traveling in the floo network.

There was no time to wear my undergarments but I managed to grab my coat and inserted my tube golden top inside my bag. It was a lucky move.

It took us a few seconds to reach our destination. A huge condominium on a high-rise building, which he owns under some companies name is where he brought me. We would usually go there to be alone and do things as a couple so I assumed it would be the same for this day. I was standing in front of the large screen television and saw my reflection on it. My breasts were showing so I covered myself with my black furry coat and placed my bag on top of the desk. We talked for a while and decided to skip work for that day.

Surprisingly, an old officemate of our came by and to say hello in a short a tete-a-tete snack. It was Marsha, she was wearing a floor-reaching coat with illusions of elongated designs. On top flows her silky ash blonde hair that reaches her thighs. As usual, she was wearing her pretty toothpaste endorser smile as we talked over our short tea party.

As we were talking, I was nervous of dropping my hands from covering my body with my coat. It was hard to move and it feels very restrained. So I was relieved when she left and got the room for ourselves again. Eager to be in his arms, I dropped my coat and went straight to him. We both fell into the fluffy bed and I hugged him tightly as if we haven’t seen each other for months!

It felt different though. It was unusual for him to be unresponsive to my affection. As if he had something else in mind that he wanted to do. As soon as he opened his mouth to tell me that his relatives were coming, the door opened and they came in. I hid behind the walls and wore my golden tube top, fixed my long black hair and showed up.

I’ve forgotten that he bought the place not for us, but for them to have a meeting place of their classified interests. The condominium although is like a common hotel room, does have a large conference room with long table that could fit 20 people. It also has a labyrinth corridor that leads to their otherworldly place. i’ve never been there. But he told me stories about certain events. Though still I’m not an expert to define that world.

More than ten relatives came in and went directly to the conference room. Some were his cousins but mostly it was his aunts and uncles that arrived to deliver a shocking news. I don’t know what it is, but I guess it was terrible. They were all members of the Black Market, a community where they play their financial interests. At first, I thought it was just a place where illegal marketing occurs, but it was more complex than that. It’s more than a world for financial geniuses with a bit of sorcery. Way different in the world where I live in. It was pretty dark, scary, which is a dog-eat-dog world with battles of competing guilds constantly happening in every corner.

I didn’t participate in their meeting. It was way more classified than the previous stuff they had and gaining information would only do me harm. As soon as they were finished, they went to the Black Market and my boyfriend brought me with him. Finally, I’ve seen what it looks like. Their roads are as small as sidewalks but full of train tracks or rail roads. That’s where you can hover and transport yourself from one street to the next. Looking at their system, it’s not beyond the laws of physics at all. I regarded it as pure sorcery which no human can explain, but I was wrong. Their entire system as financial geniuses in a strange world is a work of geniuses in engineering.

As we travel along those tracks, I observed the stores and it felt I was in a place full of Borgin and Burkes. It’s like I was in Knockturn Alley. The one that sells dark magical objects forbidden to ordinary wizards. The atmosphere was really eerie and the people spookily stared at me as I passed by.

Finally we arrived in our destination which is different from his relatives. My boyfriend’s intention was to bargain something from a merchant, which he needs the most as of the moment. I have no idea what it was. But I went with him anyway. I sensed danger was on the way and it was one of the moments he would need me the most.

Soon after he successfully got what he needed, sirens from all over the place warned everyone of the current hazard in the Black Market. Floating men in black capes with merciless eyes quickly passed by us as if they were haunting delinquents. I tried to hide my fear but he quickly noticed it and held my hand.

We followed the creepy men to see what was going on but what we saw shocked us both. I placed my hand on his shoulder to comfort him so he wouldn’t break into his manly tears. I constantly whispered into his ears to be strong so we could get out there alive. As we tiptoed around the crime scene, our eyes were staring at the bodies on the floor. It was his relatives that we just met a few minutes ago. All lifeless on the ground. We tried to act normal to escape. I overheard that the floating men were still looking for other members of the same guild. “They need to be annihilated.” One said.

As we were finding our way out, he was silent, probably still digesting what happened or thinking of ways to avenge while I was deep in my thoughts figuring out how they were taken down in one blow. His relatives belong to one guild, Arkherna Guild. It was competing guild with the same interest that must be responsible for this. Through their knowledge, one guild could annihilate another in one attack. Must be some kind of technology that could shut down an entire system perhaps. I never knew what they do neither the others, but I know one thing is for sure, it’s never safe to be involved in the Black Market.

We were hovering for half an hour but still I can’t figure out why he was spared. I never asked him, but she spoke to me. He confided that he wasn’t a member yet. There was a delay in his membership and he was supposed to be one of them by now. For me it was a good thing, a relief. At least he’s saved. I don’t know how I can manage to live without him by my side. I hugged him tight to comfort him and at the same time, to appreciate his existence that moment. I can’t help but felt his sadness though, he was very close to his relatives. The way the Weasleys were close to each other. For him, it was always family first. I knew he was angry. He wanted to avenge them. It’s wrong but I can’t stop him anymore.

Soon after, we went back to the world I live in – The peaceful metropolitan under the clear blue skies. Far away from their dark abyss. Somehow it was relieving to feel safe once again, but never did I thought it wouldn’t last long. As we were walking on the streets, we noticed that three masked men from the Black Market were following us. They were probably from the other guild that was responsible for the death of his guild. We tried to escape running from one block to the other, parkouring from one wall to the next and climbing emergency ladders to lose them. But we reached a dead end when we entered a public room inside a hospital. We knew there was only one thing to do, to hid under the bed. It was very risky, but there were no other options left.

The men arrived and saw my hair flowing out. They were suspicious of it so my boyfriend managed to transform me into a tiny baby wrapped in pink blanket. He placed me on the bed where a woman lying there cuddled me for a while. The men left and searched somewhere else. But the woman really thought I was her baby! “You came here because you wanted me to be your mommy!” She said. So I quickly jumped off the bed and transformed back to my original self. My boyfriend was giggling behind me. His trolling was a success. But no time for more, we need to escape!

We ran and ran until we saw a legendary creature half-bird half-horse flying in the sky. It was a hippogriff piloted by one of his cousins. Right then and then, I knew, we are safe. We went to my home in the suburbs to get away from the chaos for a while. the creature landed on our balcony and we hopped off. His cousin was a lady. She left as soon as she dropped us home. She said that she needs to meet the rest of the relatives to plot too. We bid farewell and rested for the night.

On the living room, I lit the fireplace and made hot chocolates to warm us both. He sat on the couch deep in thoughts. It was hard for me to see him that way. Full of anger and sadness at the same time. I can’t think of anything else to relieve his emotional pain but to support his vengeance. I helped him think of plans to take down the other guild but I guess my ideas weren’t helping at all. I just stayed there by his side so he wouldn’t feel alone until we fell asleep on each other’s arms.

At midnight, when darkness was at its peak, the entire place was filled with terror. No different from the world of the Black Market.  We decided to come back unarmed to look for the other guild’s weaknesses. But instead, danger welcomed us. We were arrested as soon as we entered the place. Everyone was. It’s like the Nazi’s took over the entire society. The floating black men brought us to the dungeons where they keep the criminals behind special bars.

I guess everyone needs to undergo interrogation to find the rest of the members of the recently annihilated guild. As we were going down one dungeon after another, a whisper disturbed us. A voice full of wrath was calling his name. I followed the voice, it was disturbing. Soon enough, I discovered it was coming from the wall made of bricks. It was plain and doesn’t seem to be a hidden door or some sort. But strangely, a voice was coming out of it.

One of the floating black men hovered towards me and whipped his hand to the wall. Gradually, a room appeared and an offender hurriedly forced himself on to the bars, screaming in anger. He was reaching his hands towards him as he spoke in a language I never understood. My boyfriend went near him. Observing the way he stares at the offender, it can be concluded that he was his acquaintance before. They must have had a past which he never told me.

He reached his hand and touched the offender’s face. Right at that moment, time stopped for the three of us. Everyone in the Black Market was frozen in time. I, from afar, was watching them converse about a past they had. A past I wasn’t aware of. The offender was freed from the bars and my boyfriend was trapped in a bonfire made of corpses. He wasn’t burning though but in terrible pain. He was screaming. And the offender just stood there enjoying him suffer. I wanted to help, but my physical body is frozen. My mind isn’t.

The offender noticed this and went straight to me. “What strange woman you are. How are you not frozen in time like the others?”

My boyfriend broke free from the spell that bounded him from that bonfire. He thrust onto him and they fell on the ground. He quickly grabbed his purchase which he bargained the first time we went there. It was a powder of blue crest. He quickly sprinkled a handful onto the offender’s head and immediately melted its face. It was a dreadful attack. I couldn’t believe what I saw but I was thankful for it. Who knows what he could’ve done to me if he didn’t freed himself.

The time was still frozen from the others and we immediately escaped from the place. In one blink, we were back again in my apartment. He was unconscious when we arrived. Probably tired from suffering down there. I laid him to my bed and cleaned his face to freshen him up. I removed his spectacles, placed in on top of my night table as he slept like an innocent child. I was glad he was resting.

I sat there beside him and removed my stilettos. I looked at his face and tried to digest everything that happened. It was a lot to recall that only occurred in a span of a day. I learned a lot about him. What he does. Who he was dealing with. It was hard for him. A lot of pain. A lot of suffering. He never told me anything about it. But I wasn’t mad at him for that. I, too, had a secret to spare. Like him, I knew sorcery that I inherited from my ancestors. I never dealt with the Black Market though. I came from a different society. Heavenly, very light and purely peaceful. Our knowledge in sorcery is only being used to relieve all sorts of discomfort.

That moment, I wanted to use my ability on him.  So he doesn’t need to suffer anymore. I placed my hand on his forehead to wipe away his memory about the Black Market, his late relatives and everything else that would remind him of it. I want him to start a new life with me. Far away from the danger we faced. I spared his memory of his family though. And removed their memories as well about their relatives. It was wrong, but I have to save them. They don’t need to face the Black Market anymore. It wouldn’t do them any good at all. Hours later, they would all wake up without any traces of what happened. And for me to live a peaceful life as well, I decided to wipe away mine too.

Soon there was peace.

Serenity.

Reborn.