The “Momo Challenge,” which allegedly caused children to commit violent acts on themselves and others, turned out to be a viral hoax. Momo herself, however, is a real sculpture—at least, she was.
Since 2018, the Momo Challenge—in which a picture of Momo would purportedly pop up in memes and other media with an explicit or implicit encouragement to commit self-harm—has been popular internet fodder, even inspiring a Minecraft mod. Recently, Momo has experienced a renewed surge in popularity after her “challenge” was said to have been circulating on WhatsApp. The challenge has been blamed for causing kids to commit self-harm. Warnings about the Momo Challenge spread around Facebook, creating a feedback loop of fear and causing a public outcry—even Kim Kardashian asked YouTube to “do something” via an Instagram story.
Snopes examined the purported Momo links to violence but turned up nothing concrete. CNN ran a report titled, “Parents, Please Stop Freaking Out Over The Momo Challenge.” Other publications like The Atlantic also debunked the hoax. Laura Hazard Owen of Nieman Journalism Lab told NPR, “There’s no proof that this is a real thing. It’s not a real thing.”
The sculpture, however, was.
Momo was created by Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso and shown at a 2016 art show in Tokyo. The actual name of the work, however, is not Momo—that was a later internet addition. The sculpture is actually called “Mother Bird” and depicts an ubume, which is a type of Japanese yokai.
It ended up as an internet “creepy” image on Reddit and eventually spawned the bogus Momo Challenge.
The sculpture, however, no longer exists. Aiso was quoted telling The Sun (via Asia One and News Australia) that the work, which was never intended to be long-lasting, was rotting and falling apart, so he threw it away. Aiso added, “If you’d have seen it in the state it was in, it would have probably looked even more terrifying.”
Aiso said when he originally created the piece, he wanted to frighten people. He did not intend it to be used to make kids cause harm to themselves or others. But what does the artist think about his work being used for this hoax? He said he has mixed feelings because it caused him trouble, but the situation did expose his work to the whole world.
“The children can be reassured Momo is dead—she doesn’t exist and the curse is gone.”