Masa Cong Ma (Photos: Mycah Hazel)

A pop-up at 310 Canal Street is promising an escape from souvenir shops and a journey through the sites, smog and splendor of East Asia. The “Forgotten East” is an interactive exhibit on China’s role in fashion and jewelry design. Four rooms explore the Silk Road, the trade route that brought lavish fabrics, metals and pottery from China to Europe and the Americas. Visitors can walk through the smog-filled mountains of Jiayuguan, try on pearls in the Gobi Desert, or pose in the Roman and Turkish markets. Forgotten East pairs immersive features with a museum-style tour of China’s importance to the fashion-fabric trade.

“China used to be the golden country in art but people gradually forgot the Asian civilization,” says the Forgotten East’s art director, Masa Cong Ma, 28. “I want people to get to know more about the traditional culture.”

Cong Ma, a New York-based, Beijing-born jeweler, was inspired to create the exhibit while doing research for her line of silk jewelry, 1107M. Cong Ma creates pure silver earrings with double sided, embroidered silk templates, which she sells on her website. The exhibit was created to remind people that as “mother of silk,” China advanced a fabric and jewelry trade that made many modern designs in international fashion possible.

Cong Ma sees the installation as her own “silk road”: her journey to highlight underrated aspects of Chinese culture while trying to get into jewelry sales in the United States. “I’m trying to bring the Chinese culture here,” she said, “let everybody know me and also learn from each other.”

Cong Ma grew up in Beijing and got a Bachelor’s in Chinese Painting at Beijing’s Capital Normal University. With a father in architecture and a mother in fashion, she has always had design on her radar. She came to New York to pursue a master’s in Jewelry Design at SUNY New Paltz, where she graduated in 2017. This is her first art installation.

“I use my hands a lot to make things, so I know how to handle the sculptures,” she says with a laugh. “From a very young age, I used to make clothes by myself.”

The Forgotten East was created in collaboration with Everysunny Entertainment and Media Group and sculptor Bria Dragone, with lighting by Fengyuan Zhong and consulting by James Hsieh. The four rooms are small, holding 10 to 12 people. Unlike most pop-ups, guests have unlimited time to survey each room and take photos. Visitors can explore the colorful crevices of China’s Dunhuang Caves, which Cong Ma calls the “Selfie Room” because of its numerous neon mirrors.

Her favorite part of the exhibit is the “Mountains,” where a thick green haze leads into tree-ridden, sculpted green mountains. “While making the Mountains, I did Chinese painting on the wall– and I haven’t painted for many years!” she says. “So when I do, I feel like I get myself back.”

Cong Ma is currently seeking international vendors of jewelry, art or any other goods, who want to sell their products in the “market” section, the final destination on the Silk Road. The exhibition currently closes on June 25th, but Cong Ma hopes to extend the lease to accommodate international vendors.

“I want not only the people from my country but also artists from all over the world,” says Cong Ma. “That’s the meaning of the Silk Road. That’s why we need the vendors from all different industries.”

The Forgotten East is open Monday through Sunday from 11am to 8pm. General admission is $20, tickets for students are $15 and children under 12 enter for free.