Cultural Forum Session I
"Southeast Asia & Taiwan: The Contemporary Narratives of Post-war Art History & Visual Culture"
, Curator; Researcher of Taiwan International Arts Network, National Culture & Arts FoundationSeng Yu-Jin
, Senior Curator of the National Gallery SingaporePatrick Flores
, Professor of Art Studies at the Department of Art Studies, University of the PhilippinesChiang Po-Shin
, Director of Art Archive Center in Taiwan, Tainan National University of the ArtHuang Hsu-Ping
, Division Chief, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts
Mohamed Najib Bin Ahmad Dawa
, Director General of National Art Gallery of MalaysiaLin Yu-Shih
, Independent art curator; art critic; theatre/dance criticNobuo Takamori
, Curator; Researcher of Taiwan International Arts Network, National Culture & Arts Foundation
Deputy Minister Hsiao Tsung-huang
Good morning, everyone. First of all, on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Minister Cheng, I’d like to welcome our members of Southeast Asia Advisory Committee from Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Besides the closed-door meeting among the committee members and the heads from the Ministry of Culture yesterday morning, today we’re going to exchange ideas and thoughts with our friends in Taiwan and the committee members in public.
Long time ago, at the Age of Sail, in 1620 or even prior to that, Asia was seen as the new land for Europeans to explore further into the east. In the 16th, 17th centuries, the Dutch East India Company came to Jakarta, Indonesia, which was also known as Batavian Republic. The Spanish came to Manila, the Philippines. The Portuguese came to Macau. The reason why they came to Asia was because they were aiming at China and Japan, which were greater empires. At the Age of Sail, Taiwan was the hub of Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. Nowadays, Taiwan is very democratic. Our people are very friendly and our infrastructures are very good, not to mention the prosperity of our IT industries. At that point, Europeans came to Southeast Asia and other places in Asia. It was called "The Enlightenment in Asia," but Asia was actually losing its subjectivity. Things were seen based on West Europe perspectives. A lot of countries in Asia have gone through the same colonial backgrounds, and we have been seeking our identities and subjectivities. At a time like this, what role can Taiwan play in the whole Asia or in Southeast Asia? This is something we’ve been thinking about.
In order to foster deeper cultural exchanges within Asia and Southeast Asia, the Ministry of Culture established the Southeast Asia Advisory Committee. We invited the committee members to visit Taiwan and conduct different activities such as talks, forums, screenings and so on. We have had more than 80 events since 2016. Also, based on the committee members’ suggestion, the Ministry of Culture launched the Youth Cultural Gardeners Program aiming at forming a shared platform for young people in Taiwan and Southeast Asia to co-create and have exchanges with each other. We’re also hoping to see more frequent contacts and a deeper understanding between the young people from each side, so as to pass down the friendship and the cultures.
As we can see, there are two topics for the forums today. One of them is to respond to the committee members’ suggestion last year to reconstruct an art history. Every country is constructing its own history, and each has its own culture and art. Reconstructing an art history is naturally about constructing the country's own art history perspective, mainly to relocate the art history back in the world context. Whether it’s from the 19th century or this day, all the art in the past such as Classical Art or Contemporary Art, the development was assessed from a European viewpoint. However, we’re now actually building our own Asian viewpoint. Take the National Gallery Singapore for example. The curator is also here today. They started to organize Asia Biennale since 2006. When I was the director of National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the museum had opened the first Asia Biennale since 2007. The Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts (KdMoFA) actually has held several Asia Biennales. Each museums discusses how Asian culture’s development will appear through different angles and interfaces. In this May, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts will take over the "Sun Shower" exhibition from Mori Art Museum, Japan.
This exhibition explores the art development in Southeast Asia. What’s interesting is that in the discussion with the Ministry of Culture, many committee members mentioned that betel nuts have become a cultural topic. In the past, it’s an important symbol of aboriginal spirit. It was used in various occasions such as weddings or funerals. It was also used as a way to connect with the Han people during trades. Unfortunately, it’s has been stigmatized in Taiwan nowadays. Southeast Asia has rich betel nut cultures, just like the sun showers. When it rains with the sun still out, it’s called a sun shower. It’s like what Taiwanese call “Northwest rain” as well as spring rain.
I was just talking to Director Najib about another interesting culture: Bananas. Why? Due to the geographical environment, there are basically no betel nuts up north from Taiwan. There are no betel nuts in Japan because it’s located in a high latitude area. Bananas are the crops from Southeast Asia, and they were sold to Japan and thus connected with it. That’s what makes it interesting. There are a lot of similarities regarding culture and art connections in the region of Southeast Asia, and I think the committee members will address them from different aspects in a more organized way. The forum in the afternoon is about Austronesian music, and it was also proposed by the committee members. We claim Taiwan as the motherland of the Austronesian, and the Austronesian people in Taiwan and Southeast Asia are definitely related in a way. They are not necessarily genetically related, but archaeologically there are quite some overlapping parts in religious rituals or customs. For example, Batan Island and Taiwanese Yami and Tao are considered brothers. In such a cultural context and Austronesian culture and art, especially the music, songs and dance, there are rich varieties to be elaborated this afternoon.
So, I'd like to say thank you to the committee members, participants and guests. Thank you all for coming. Southeast Asian countries are the neighbors we have long ignored, and we will keep working on this part in the future. We will also keep up with the Southeast Asia Advisory Committee and Youth Cultural Gardeners Program. Best wishes to everyone.Nobuo Takamori
Good morning to Deputy Minister, committees and everyone. Thank you all for joining us this early in the forum. There are actually a couple of cores in the morning session titled "Southeast Asia & Taiwan: The Contemporary Narratives of Post-war Art History & Visual Culture." When we are talking about art history and archives, which is also one of the central policies of the Ministry of Culture, what's more important is the fact that we are shedding light on how to look back or re-interpret art history and archives from a contemporary perspective as a contemporary art curator, an art institution or an artist. There are a lot of methodologies in the world, and there’s one single crucial purpose underneath these methodologies: to know whom we are studying.
We are actually focusing on the possibilities and the relationship between Taiwan and Southeast Asia in the morning session. Of course, it includes the exchanges of the methodologies. In terms of visual art history, there are two stages of post-war contemporary art exchanges respectively in the 50s to 60s and the 70s. The exchange of contemporary art started in the middle 1990s to this day. Taiwan has had a complete, 20-year experience of exchanging exhibitions, productions, and artworks with important art institutes or artists from Southeast Asia. Taiwan is relatively just starting our steps on exchanging with the Southeast Asia. So, I think we will get to know more about the professional opinions of the committee members this morning.
Here's a brief introduction of the 4 speakers and their topics. First of all, we have Seng Yu Jin. He's a senior curator of the National Gallery, Singapore. He will mention the potential regional layer between global and local. If this regional layer does exist, how can we build a regional narrative through the comparative approach? The second speaker is Patrick Flores from the University of the Philippines. He is a key art scholar. The majority of Taiwan's readings on studying Southeast Asia comes from Professor Flores’ studies. He will talk about how Southeast Asia gradually forms the concept of regions with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). On the other hand, we have two Taiwanese speakers. One is Dr. Po-Shin Chiang from TNNUA (Tainan National University of the Arts). He is currently the director of the Art Archive Center in Taiwan. He will introduce Taiwan's research results and future goals from his perspective. Also, we have a division chief from the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Huang Hsu-Ping. She will share with us the results of Asia Biennales so far. This year's biennale is pretty special because it will be co-curated by Taiwanese artist Hsu Chia Wei and Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen. At last, we will have 3 respondents, including me, the director of the National Art Gallery of Malaysia Mohamed Najib Bin Ahmad Dawa and the curator Lin Yu-Shih. We will respond and discuss the four topics in the morning sessions.Seng Yu-Jin
Good morning, everyone. It's a privilege to be invited by the Ministry of Culture to share with everyone what the National Gallery Singapore is about. I was asked also by the broader community to begin thinking about and introducing some of the projects that National Gallery Singapore has embarked on since we opened in 2015. And to share some of the curatorial kind of frameworks that the National Gallery has used to think about the kind of relationships and intersections between the global, regional, and local. So the title of my presentation today is "Comparative Anxieties: Linking Resonances and Connections in Global-Regional-Local Art Histories."
I would like to start by introducing Charles Lim Yi Yong, and incidentally, the National Gallery Singapore has commissioned Charles Lim (a Singaporean artist who has participated at the Venice Biennale) to transform its Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden, which is the rooftop of the National Gallery Singapore. And we have also commissioned other artists to re-design the space. Charles is an interesting artist that we wanted to work with. And I thought, as an interesting entry point to discuss these intersections between global, regional, and local.
And this exhibition is actually opening today at the National Gallery Singapore. So, I thought it's a wonderful way to also introduce his work "Sea State 9." And the title of his work is "Proclamation Garden." I think it's interesting because particularly Charles' research is really based on the notion of reclamation of land. And interestingly, in Singapore, and actually in many parts of the world: land in Singapore, it's constantly reclaimed. And Singapore's geographical space has increased by about 20% to 30%, of our original size, through land reclamation.
So, what is also interesting is how this process of land reclamation requires actually a proclamation by our president to make the land a national land that we can use. So, Charles, therefore, then you know, decided to title this exhibition "Proclamation" because he's interested in how land comes into being and how we can actually make land through reclamation. But he's also transformed the entire rooftop space of the National Gallery by bringing in plants that are not endemic to Singapore. These plants are actually brought here through the process of land reclamation. You might be asking where Singapore gets all this land. So obviously, we bought this land from Indonesia, from home or other places, and then bring this land to Singapore, and use it.
But in that process, plants also brought in, so these plants were actually from dispersed all over Southeast Asia, and they're not usually found in Singapore. But through the process of land reclamation, they started to adapt and actually thrive in the Singapore environment. His work is about how these plants have thrived. And he has transformed our rooftop garden space by planting these plants that are now found in our reclaimed land areas. To a Singaporean, probably, the whole garden is now very alien, because these are not plants that we normally see in Singapore. So it's quite an interesting process of transference and transmission and adaptation that has taken place. Therefore, I think that's really an interesting way and an entry point to think about these intersections between the global regional and local.
This is the real vision and mission of the National Gallery. And really, we aim to create dialogues between the art of Singaporeans, Southeast Asia, and the world through research, education, and exhibitions. This is the National Gallery, Singapore, which comprises of the former Supreme Court and the City Hall buildings, both things are actually public monuments. And they have been transformed into a museum of Southeast Asian art.
These are just images of the National Gallery. These are the courtroom spaces. They have been transformed into exhibition spaces as well so it's a kind of nice view of the pattern. An important part of what we do and how we connect to the region is actually through our loans. So, we have learned extensively from many museums across the region from the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum (VNFAM), Brooklyn Museum, Bangkok National Museum, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and through the process of lending, we have actually enriched our research. And it's also enabled us to foster stronger networks and collaborations between museums. We have also international partners, of course, they have worked with the Centre Pompidou, of course, Tate. So these are some of the museums that we have recently worked with.
To briefly introduce our strategic priorities, I think the main point is really to redefine art in Southeast Asia, and further this understanding in a global context. And this process of redefining is important because it also challenges the global narrative and construction of art history.
The National Gallery has two permanent galleries: one permanent gallery for Southeast Asian art, and another permanent gallery for Singapore art. And we oversee the largest public collection of Modern Art in Singapore and Southeast Asia, currently, we have more than 1000 works from Southeast Asia, of which 70% comprises of works from Singapore, and the rest from Southeast Asia. And I think a key point here is how we want to effectively rewrite the art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia within the global context. One of the areas that we have looked at include artistic movements and how; there are intersections between the local Singapore and the regions of Asia and how that intersects with the global sphere. In terms of our museum missions, we have five columns: global modernism's artistic movements, artistic foreigners, Singapore ink, as well as Southeast Asia comparatives.
These are the five columns that shape how we think about our construction of art history and how we engage with global modernism. Globalism is particularly important because we see it as a two-way conversation. And what we do is to locate Southeast Asia within the broader global context, in terms of artistic movements is a way in which we kind of redefine and rethink about our art movements. And I'll go into more detail as I talk about our recent exhibition, minimalism artistic foreigners. Our way is to introduce important art historically significant artists. And of course, we have Singapore as well as our ink collection and Southeast Asia comparatives. Now Southeast Asia comparatives are a major trajectory of the National Gallery, Singapore because this is how we embark on comparative research, which links back to my discussion about how we do comparative research across the region between regions, and when we're looking at global and within a global context.
The first column about global modernism, which comes back to the title of my presentation- "Comparative Anxieties: Linking Resonances and Connections in Global-Regional-Local Art Histories," which is actually taken from Patrick's essay thinking about how we do comparative research. So, it's about looking at cultural transfers. The process of cultural transfers, is really, I think, the heartbeat of what the National Gallery Singapore does. So, we are not so interested in looking at origins, because origins privilege the Eurocentric narrative of art history; instead, we look at the processes of cultural transfers and how they have taken place within the region between regions, as well as how they intersect with global model entities. And that is done. I think I will talk more about how we have embarked on this research into cultural transfers later, you know, exhibitions. Next is really critically situated in Southeast Asia, not really in a global context.
And looking at comparative research, which is why the fifth column that talked about the Southeast Asia comparative is very important. So, we embark on comparative research within the region to break out of the national framework, which is a way I think the national framework is important, but it also limits our research. So we can do more comparative research within the region. And in order to expand contact points. And this comes back to Reiko Tomii, who's a Japanese scholar, to think about connections and resonances. So we want to establish the connections at the historical movements of artists and how the artists were interacting with each other, or the exchange of ideas, which is all part of the process of cultural transference.
So that's important for us to think about how these connections as well as resonances, one that's more about how they're conceptual, or contextual affinities that artists can share, historically, these affinities such as the Cold War context, or another shared historical context that allows us to frame and think about the region. And lastly, if is to foreground local art histories as a kind of bottom-up approach. So what is important is the local and we start from the local and we build up the research to make comparative research within the region. And from there, we are then able to conduct inter-regional research that helps us to shape the global.
This is actually the title of our permanent exhibition for Singapore art- "Siapa Nama Kamu," it means "what is your name." I will briefly go through it because it charts 200 years of Singapore's art history.
And we start with this work by Heinrich Leutemann, which was done in 1865. And you see a tiger bouncing out of the jungle and attacking this group of people. Of course, we have a G.D. Coleman, who is the center, he was doing his land survey. And of course, a land survey is a process of modernity. So, the tiger coming out is an interesting trope for us on how modernity is being threatened.
And of course, we start with the 19th century. Again, we look at the process of cultural transfers, by looking at early trade paintings, and kind of topographical prints and botanical drawings as well. Many of them were actually artisans from China, who were engaged by the British to paint the flora and fauna of the region, as a way of constructing a kind of colonial knowledge.
And then we move on to the Nanyang Reverie, which is in the mid-20th century, the Nanyang artists, many of them were born in China and in India and came to Singapore, especially after the Second World War. They developed what we call as Nanyang art, which is a hybridisation of the style of Paris like Cubism, and bringing in Chinese in painting traditions as well as depicting local subject matter. So, it's a very hybrid kind of art movement that started in Singapore, particularly in the use of bright tropical colors. This was something different that they encountered when they came to Singapore.
And then we move in the 1960s where there was a social realist movement, there was an intention with abstraction in the 60s and 70s. So we have artists like Chua Mia Tee, painting "The National Language Class" whereby a group of students is learning Bahasa Melayu ("Malaysian language"), which is our national language, we have also many artists are kind of painting abstract works at the same time.
This is really also looking into our research on ink that will come back later and to go into the contemporary. So, we have artists like Tang Da Wu, making performance and installation books. So, this is our Southeast Asia Gallery. It's titled "Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia since the 19th Century." Again, looking at the art history of Southeast Asia across 200 years, and focusing really on the cultural transfers taking place.
So, we start off with Raden Saleh, an important Javanese artist, as well as Juan Luna, which I'll come back later. A Philippine artist. And Raden Saleh actually went to Europe, and he studied there. And he came back, and he developed a different way of looking at the Javanese art history. So, for example, if you look at the lion, which symbolizes the Dutch colonial control over Java, and there's actually a Javanese spear, that's photoshopped into the body of the lion. So, the lion is seen as almost like a post-colonial critique of colonialism.
The exhibition "Imagining Country and Self" in the Southeast Asia gallery, where we have artists across the Southeast Asia artists like the artist Nguyen Gia Tri who produces lacquer painting. So, it's again a hybrid art form using local craft like lacquer, but transforming it into a kind of easel format. The exhibition "Manifesting the Nation" expresses the tension between social realism and abstraction from the 50s to 60s, and redefines our contemporary art form the 70s to nowadays.
So, now I talk about our changing shows, our first major championship was "Reframing Modernism." That was a collaboration between the National Gallery Singapore, and the Centre Pompidou. And what we did was actually to show a sizable body of works by Southeast Asian and French artists. And we broke the whole chronological narrative. So there was no chronology in this exhibition. Picasso could be shown beside another Southeast Asian artists of a different time period, so time didn't matter.
What mattered was the comparative approach, which was used by the curators to reframe modernism by looking at residents and connections between these artists' aesthetic connections or conceptual ones. So, this exhibition has actually developed into a series of smaller exhibitions in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, like the recent exhibition "Pago Pago: Latiff Mohidin." It’s resulted in on the side of Centre Pompidou being interested in Southeast Asian artists and wanting to embark on research and exhibition of them and their works as well. These are images of the show, artistic foreigners.
So really, this looks at important artists. So, we present an exhibition of its Iskandar Jalil, who's a ceramicist, who traveled widely within Southeast Asia. And we presented "Earth Work," which is an installation by Tang Da Wu. He did in 1979 whereby these gully curtains that will place into gully and he actually used all kinds of half nature produced the work rather than the artists producing the work, so Tang Da Wu always says that this is actually not an artwork, it's more like a way of measuring what was happening to earth due to soil erosion.
I've mentioned the exhibition of Latiff Mohidin, which is another important exhibition that sprung out of the Centre Pompidou collaboration of reframing modernism. So, artistic movements, I talked about "Modernism" as an important exhibition, it's just closed. And what happened was an attempt to redefine “Modernism” by including Southeast Asian artists into the narrative.
So, there was actually a big debate within the curators whether or not to title it "Modernisms" in plural or "Modernism." So, I think they decided to take the title "Modernism" because they didn't want to make any apology. If you took the title “Modernisms,” it will imply there are many different types of minimalism; but they took the title "Modernism" to disrupt the narrative of "Modernism" that has been very much Eurocentric. So, they brought in artists from Southeast Asia, and in a way disrupting the narrative. So, these are the works of the exhibition.
And this is an upcoming exhibition. It opened first at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and it traveled to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea; finally, it is coming to the National Gallery Singapore; it'll open on June 13th. It is titled "Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia, 1960s to 1990s." Actually, I've personally been involved with it and it's a collaboration between three national museums in Singapore, Japan, and Korea. We look comparatively at experimental socially engaged practices across Asia, from the 1960s to the 1990s. So, radiant material is a deeper look at Vietnamese, like a painting in which artists Phi Phi Oanh was commissioned to produce works to rethink the relevance of like a painting. So these are images of the works.
So, finally, the last trajectory, which is Southeast Asia comparatives, in which we draw connections and resonances; I want to highlight "Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna," which was our major exhibition to look at these two 19th-century artists, who both studied in Europe. Juan Luna studied in Spain and Raden Saleh in Holland. And then they came back to Java, as well as the Philippines respectively. We’re interested in the process of cultural transference in what took place during the time in Europe, and when they were back. So, these are installation views of the exhibition.
So, another important project, which we did, is comparative- "A Fact Has No Appearance: Art Beyond the Object," focusing on three artists: Johnny Manahan, Redza Piyadasa and Tan Teng-Kee. And the practices of this exhibition are bound together by the concept of destruction. Destruction was an important part of their practice. And so this was really the engagement or research into the early part of conceptually or the early history of conceptualism in Southeast Asia.
And finally, we have our ink, which is an important part of our research as well because we have Wu Guanzhong Gallery. And because Wu Guanzhong donated a sizable body of more than 100 works to the National Gallery Singapore. So we have been organizing exhibitions to showcase this donation, as well as your office as an opportunity to collaborate with other museums in China and Hong Kong as well.
This is an exhibition by Chen Chong Swee, one of our Nanyang artists that I mentioned earlier, who were born in China and came to Singapore. Alright, so just to give a sense that besides exhibitions, we also produce different kinds of programs like our "Light to Night," as well as our Children's Biennale, our major ways of engaging with the public, particularly through our education programs.
And of course, we have an app that you can download. It's quite a useful app with different audio tours. Recently, we have included the different languages of ASEAN. I think we have seven languages in which you can listen and it helps you to guide through the Southeast Asia gallery in these different languages. And lastly, I'll end with our Resource Centre. And we have established our Resource Centre and it's an important repository of archival materials related to Southeast Asian art. Thank you.Patrick Flores
Good morning, everyone. First of all, I’d like to thank the Ministry of Culture for the invitation and hospitality. I'm pleased to be here in Taipei. The title of the talk is "Southeast Asia as Region: Contexts in Art History and Curatorial Practice." And I speak here today both as a curator of contemporary art and as a historian of modern art in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. This talk mainly reflects on the experience of curating contemporary art in Southeast Asia, keeping in mind certain anxieties and expectations about the writing of art history in the region.
"Ties of History: Art in Southeast Asia," the exhibition in 2018, which I curated, gathered artists in Manila, to represent the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It was organized to commemorate the 50 years of the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Taken from the ASEAN Declaration in 1967, the phrase "ties of history" may allude to the blessings and burdens of being together and being different in a region that is thought to be shared. The works of the artists spoke to this complex and productive condition, as they express the many ways by which the various strands of subjectivity as citizen artists weave and unravel in the project of making selves in particular places, making nations in an international world and making regions across forests islands and cities through the gestures of contemporary art.
This is the region of Southeast Asia that ASEAN tries to represent and this might be another way to look at Southeast Asia as a region. So, this is just trying to complicate the cartography of the region that contemporary art wants to represent. And some of the exhibitions produced through the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and also on ASEAN, and from, let's say, in 1990. So, these are early attempts to consolidate this course and the region through the exhibition. So, for me, exhibitions are gestures of our curatorial gestures on the one hand but also art historical gestures on the other. So, they straddle both fields of art history and curatorial work. And more is new art from Southeast Asia in 1992. And, as you can see, Japan has invested so much already in consolidating this course in Southeast Asia, alongside Singapore and perhaps Australia. So, it's interesting for the Philippines to create its own space to intervene in terms of exhibition-making in relation to the region.
And in terms of this course, from the academic world, we have had anthologies on Southeast Asia from Cornell University, here, edited by Nora Taylor and Boreth Ly. And we have contemporary art in a critical reader by Melissa Chiu from MIT Press. And the third text, I co-edited this volume with Joan Kee titled Contemporaneity and Art in Southeast Asia. And this idea of contemporaneity is explored by Jim Supangkat in Indonesia.
This is The ASEAN Declaration and this is where the title comes from:CONSCIOUS that in an increasingly interdependent world, the cherished ideals of peace, freedom, social justice and economic well-being are best attained by fostering good understanding, good neighborliness, and meaningful cooperation among the countries of the region already bound together by ties of history and culture.
So, these are the artists of the exhibition: Amanda Heng from Singapore, Roberto Feleo from the Philippines and Anusapati from Indonesia, Do Hoang Tuong from Vietnam, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn from Laos, who is now based in Australia. Chris Chong Chan Fui from Malaysia. Jedsada Tangtrakulwong from Thailand, Min Thein Sung from Myanmar. Vuth Lyno from Cambodia and Yasmin Jaidin from Brunei. And we had three venues for the exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum, and Yuchengco Museum.
So, this is the Vargas Museum, which is the University Museum. Each museum had a different character. So, Vargas was a University Museum, Yuchengco Museum was a museum in a corporate center, in the central business district of Makati, and dedicated to the role of the Chinese in the formation of capitalism in the Philippines. And then the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which Imelda Marcos built in the 70s to coincide with the meetings of the Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund Mrs. Marcos’ ambition, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila to showcase international art and modern art coming from overseas and presented in Manila. So to curate art in Southeast Asia in a time and place described as the contemporary requires an awareness of how the region has been constructed geopolitically, during the Cold War, and within the discourse of both colonialism, modernity, and development. It must also acknowledge efforts to critically explain how this construction has helped define the discipline about art history, the history of exhibitions, and the conversations and originality, global modernism, contemporary and so on.
Finally, we must try to understand the capacities and opportunities for this curatorial endeavor to happen in a particular location like Manila, and analyze the assembly of forces at play. Such as institutions, research, and archives, curatorial talent, government support, communities of artists, art market, and so on. To curate an exhibition of contemporary art in Southeast Asia today is to consider all these variables because they are very much central to the anxieties and expectations of both curatorial projects, and the artists' historical enterprise. As the artists in this exhibition configure the creative ecology of the region today. So did they scan the hundreds of artist theory from the 70s to the present? They reference specific moments of articulating this history through thoughtful reflections on cosmology, gender, memory, migration, nature, war, and everyday life.
They did this from the perspective of their time, because Ties of History was an intergenerational exhibition, bringing together the artists from different generations born in the 50s, and the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s. So this was a conscious effort to create an intergenerational framework as part of the methodology of the exhibition. The exhibition was therefore both an overview of contemporary art and the diligent study of artistic life in history. In other words, it was a survey of the field across time and place, and also a close reading of works that do not merely derive from the said time and place, but rather co-produce that said time and place.
So, the exhibition selected three sets of practices. And this is also part of the methodology aside from the intergenerational framework. The exhibition selected three sets of practices because there were three venues of exhibitions. So the three sets of practices from each artist in its effort to constellate achievements in the field, and not merely to gather isolated specimens from both art history and the art market. It tried to dwell on the sensitive process of artistic transformation and maturity, and it looked at artistic practice not as fully formed, but rather emerging from situations of constant forming from a continuum of discipline to shifts or turns in the making of art in our time. Because we show different sets practices, we would be able to understand how the disposition of the artists changed over time, too.
So, as people went from venue to venue, they saw different types of art made by the same artist. So, this exhibition tried to avoid confining itself to a mere representation of the region. While it addressed this demand, it thoughtfully and attentively curated the representation so that it could be hospitable as well to the interrogation, and investigation of the region, and of the politics, and poetics of representation itself. It might be argued that an exhibition of this nature should not be confined to representing an existing map. It should rather be engaged in remapping a pre-conceived world and create a space for the energy of art to unsettle and hopefully transform normative mechanisms like representation, or the exhibition.
In this spirit, ties of history gave the geo-poetic, a chance by not imposing a theme. At the outset, as a curator, I don't like themes. So as the ground zero of the initiative, that geo-poetic was permitted to evoke the place that makes the art and in the same vein, to evoke the art that makes the place. It is hoped, then that ASEAN geo-poetics would transform the orthodoxy, the normativity, and oftentimes the instrumentalization of the ASEAN geopolitics and open up the possibility of linking Southeast Asia to other articulations of the South, and the East or the Southeast taken together elsewhere, like Kaohsiung or Lahore, Hong Kong or Okinawa, Japan or South Africa and Southeast Europe, Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific among others.
To commemorate and to exhibit, there were two desires that sendoff mixed signals of marketing presence and sustaining the enterprise of representation. The first tries to memorialize as if something were a venerable object worthy of a camera because the ASEAN show was a mode of commemorating the organization. The other is to expose or to exile. This is to exhibit. It's different from the gesture of commemoration. So the other is to expose or to exile, to render vulnerable the said canonical object. It is an object that morphs into subjects in space and creates subjectivity in the political encounter between persons and things. Such a process becomes even more complicated when the object of the commemoration, it is the art of ASEAN, which has been constructed by an ideology of colonial origins. And as a result, reinforces the lasting legacy of mutating empires.
This is the dilemma of staging an exhibition to commemorate the 50th year of ASEAN; needless to say, ASEAN and for good or for ill, has put together the infrastructure for exhibitions and publications and Southeast Asian art since its inception in the late 60s. This venture is largely symmetrical with the geopolitical agenda with the organization, which is amity, diversity, and cooperation. Over the years, however, the regionalizing initiative in the arts has been complicated by various interventions into Southeast Asia. The endeavors of Dhaka in Bangladesh, Fukuoka in Japan, Brisbane in Australia and Singapore, to name a few to consolidate the region in more ways.
Through exhibitions and collection building within an extensive Asia, and beyond are significant. The proliferation of the analysis and the establishment of modern and contemporary art museums sharpen the contentions over our region against a backdrop of exclusively National Art histories, which are in turn indebted to the national identity center. I think this is the political problem of a national history that is tied to the notion of national identity. So the regional tends to complicate the stability. The curatorial as a term is wide and more generous.
The emergence of a new critical art history reorganizes the historiography and enhances the modernity of the region. Sometimes accounting for the era before the rubric of art, would they call as well as its afterlife in the postmodern contemporary context. The curatorial term is wider and more generous than the exhibition, and the art history. And it has widened the field of the region in terms of the production of art and its circulations. Finally, the vertical transmission of the power of inclusion that establishes the norm of Southeast Asia as a region has been reset by more horizontal and lateral mechanisms of peer to peer interactions and collaborations. In other words, our interest in the hereafter of Southeast Asia as a Cold War cartography coincides with our interest in the impulses that make the region formative, even as its provisional forms are discernible and sensitive to the urgencies of historical moments.
Just what is this ever haunting identity anyway? So, this is an ever haunting notion of identity. So what is ASEAN identity? In 1984, the artist-curator from the Philippines Raimondo Albano would try to decode this identity, while annotating the pieces from the Philippines for the third ASEAN exhibition of painting and photography. And this is an attempt of an artist and critic and the curator. To think about this, provisionally, what does this ASEAN identity in art, and according to him, and they quote him:There are four aspects that characterize much of ASEAN art. First, there is a regional manifestation within the country itself. The use of dried twigs, objects found in the provinces, is meant to express local color. Second, the strong influence of the Oriental language is there, artists have been trying to make use of Chinese painting techniques along Western lines. Third, there's a manifest indebtedness to academic procedures in the use of abstraction and materials, and a compelling drive to individualize technique. And then fourth, artists resort to folk mythology, local manipulation of materials to achieve dynamic surfaces, history, and tradition to invent their own. Literary images bring forth a visual sense of cultural identity.
And of course, Albano here does not obscure the layers of possible mediations from within and outside in his search for the ASEAN common ground. In the process of these identifications, I think this is where Albano's intervention is productive because he identifies but he doesn't essentialize or generalize. In the process of these identifications, Albano dismantles an irresistible homogeneity and restarts a difficult differentiation that rests not on systematization of trades, but rather on aspects of, in his words, "conceptualization and methodology." And I think this is an important phrase from Albano: conceptualization and methodology. With this as a yardstick of course, how do we move forward from Albano? And Albano, I think, has done a lot in these few sentences.
How do we not repeat the rituals that perform an impossible idea, meaning this idea of a marginalized and essentialized ASEAN identity? So, one way to do it is to produce exhibitions, right? And to mediate those exhibitions with art historical knowledge. So exhibitions that make an effort to gather the artists of a complex region of a previously vaster province, like Austronesia, require a great deal of curatorial risk and Yu Jin has spoken about the risk and the necessary resources and institutional support for it to be thought through and finally to make it happen.
But the Philippine government in collaboration with three museums, and this is also another model maybe coming out of the Philippines that there is no one big museum that can do it. But three that can share the task or the labor of producing an exhibition, which I think is more interesting than a monolithic exhibition in one space. Because the exhibition itself discloses not only the art that it presents but also the art world in which it takes place. So, for the Philippine government, to carry this out is some kind of an experiment that puts to test a lot of things: the commitment of institutions, the existence of spaces, the consciousness of the art world, the readiness of professional expertise, and the intellectual framework within which to make sense of art in Southeast Asia.
The phrase "art" in Southeast Asia seems an easy one, it is actually difficult. What does it mean to locate art in Southeast Asia? In Southeast Asia, a mere stage design against which the narrative of art unfolds within the knowledge system of the Western aesthetic. When this art inhabits the place, meaning when art inhabits Southeast Asia. What happens to art? And what happens to the place? So, I think these are art historical and curatorial questions.
So, ties of history as an exhibition is a way to build up a model method in the Philippines, which is not Japan and not Singapore, in terms of its support for digital projects. And in Southeast Asia on how a local art ecology can open up to a wider atmosphere? And at the same time, deepen its lines of affinities with the various forces that have shaped and continue to shape it, as the curator of the exhibition intended to bring various interests together.
For instance, there is an interest in the survey of art in Southeast Asia, a representation of the diverse expressions from the region, then there is an interest in art history in which an exhibition of contemporary art can be a conversation as well, on the history of modernism. That is articulated across the generations from the 70s to the present.
And finally, there is an interest in that closer reading, of artistic practice. And I think this is important, we have to closely read artistic practice we can, forever representing the region through general assumptions about aesthetics. We have to look at the work more closely. So, there is this interest in that closer reading of artistic practice through an exhibition not only singular and isolated works but constellations of works, that reveal the dimensions of creative tendencies in particular times and places across talents and traditions. So as viewers navigated that tricky, or in fact, the legendary traffic of Manila, during the monsoon season, they also got to appreciate the various phases of the arguments and the propositions of artists, in terms of medium discourse types and beliefs of so many kinds.
As a curator, I also tried to present in the exhibition, a range of inclinations, not only for the sake of variety and density, but perhaps to cut against the grain of expectations of Southeast Asian art that circulates globally, in other words, to maybe go against expectation or type that is easily predictable, and easily captured by recognition. In doing so this gesture can even lay bare the difficulty of communicating local imaginations that may not survive the translations of international contemporary art.
So, I was also interested in that where that doesn't become translatable globally. So, I don't care if they don't understand it in Europe. They should learn to understand it. That's the point of exhibitions like this, to force people to exert more labor to understand what they don't understand, and not to simply cater to what they already know, or what they expect to see. So, that in this regard, the exhibition consisted of existing and seminal works, sites-specific installations, modest commissions, reiteration of earlier productions, and new forms. So in revisiting the ASEAN, and I reread its founding declaration in 1967, and found the phrase "ties of history." If the words are shuffled, "ties of history" becomes "history of ties." So, the exhibition, therefore, tried to understand this ties, and at the same time, reconsider this ties from a historical perspective.
So, we have the venues and the artwork by Singaporean artist Amanda Heng. And the commentary of this artwork named "Walking the Stool" has never been shown in Singapore I think. When I interviewed a man they said: "No. Why are you interested in this? We have been shown this as some kind of full-scale work." But I was interested in how a man would comment on the state of what I mean, the consciousness that about women artists in Singapore through this gesture of walking the stool around Singapore. So Amanda brought the performance in the street, she put a chain on a stool and rolled it and took it out as a pet and moved around.
So this is the exhibition in the Vargas Museum in Manila. So we also presented this more well-known single series of Amanda in Dresden, in Germany, which showed that and some of the graphic and external photographic work of Amanda at Yuchengco Museum. So this is Feleo from the Philippines who is interested in craft and cosmology, and how he resists this idea of the Western sculpture and tries to recover certain methodology from carving in the Philippines. So he has two-dimensional works, but also 3D furniture like this, which is a commentary on American colonialism, and some kind of tabloid that speaks to local mythology. As in this case, a local mythology scene from the eyes of the tourist, because all elements here are from the souvenir shop. So he constructs a myth from souvenir items. And of course, life-size statuary that he refuses to call installation, he calls it Tao-tao, which is an Austronesian reference to ancestral statuary.
And Anusapati is primarily a sculptor from Jakarta. So we installed this recent work and some old sculptures from Anusapati, and also the charcoal painting. So we can see the range of the works of the artist. While Anusapati is known as a sculptor, we hardly barely know that he also does charcoal painting. Now, so I think this is one of the benefits of the exhibition.
Savanhdary is from Laos, she lives in Australia now. And this is an interesting work of paper: "Rama was a Migrant." And Savanhdary is interested in how culture in Laos tries to interpret the Ramayana, through certain common motifs in the region, like the Mekong and then Naga. So this is an example of very delicate work on paper and the slide doesn't give justice to the work of Savanhdary.
And Do Hoang Tuong from Vietnam, who is basically a painter of historical pictures as well as scenes of corruption in Vietnam. And Chris Chong from Malaysia. So we presented a video work on the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004. And the relationship that to do the development aid infrastructure, some botanical pictures that he has worked on and new work on colonial botany. And Jedsada. This is an interesting work. This is "Border, 2014" in which he tries to erase the boundary lines by relocating provinces of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and the states of Malaysia to new location. So that is the work. So this is the launching in Manila, the Vargas Museum and we occupied the space for the launching. So that's the work of Jedsada. The map is changed now.
And then this is another work from Jedsada the Met Museum about local flora in a lot particular tree in Chiang Mai. And then anime books that have been kept out to reveal like semblances of buildings. And Min Thein Sung from Myanmar. This is a video and the Pagoda Festival that he did in 2012. "Memory of Green." This is the Vargas Museum and more installation works from Min Thein Sung. And it's quite a large reiteration of his earlier work in Singapore, about these toys in Myanmar that the young boys used to make before the country would import plastic toys from elsewhere. And then Vuth Lyno from Cambodia. He’s interested in issues of sexuality. So, Thoamada II would focus on this aspect of Cambodian society about gays and lesbians having families and expressing their identities in Phnom Penh basically.
And this is a new work that we co-funded. This is the developing work from Vuth Lyno on Cambodians with African fathers, the men worked in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge. And so, they left behind some children. They live in Cambodia, struggling with their identity, and also not knowing their fathers. And finally, Brunei. Brunei as a country in ASEAN is not so much represented and Yu Jin knows that it's a problem in the National Gallery to represent Brunei. But we found that it was also represented in the "Sunshower" exhibition. So she's interested in wrapping objects as a gesture of recollection and also a reference to the Islamic practice of burial practice. So this is an interesting work from Yasmin. She also did a new work of the islands of Brunei that are being, I think, reclaimed or developed through Chinese money. So this is the entrance of the Vargas Museum, and I end this talk with this slide. Thank you very much.Chiang Po-Shin
Good morning, everyone. I'm delighted and honored to present with the Ministry of Culture's Southeast Asia Advisory Committee today. This is actually a presentation of our work in the past year under the Ministry of Culture’s policy of reconstructing Taiwanese art history. It’s also related to TNNUA's newly established Art Archive Center in Taiwan. At the end of 2017, the deputy minister Hsiao invited us to organize reconstructing Taiwanese art history seminars for NTMFA (National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts) and MOC when he was the director of NTMFA. This policy was implemented in 2017, and we have acquired a certain degree of results, including writing art history, collecting and building up art archives. I will talk about what impacts the construction has on Taiwan's art history and how we look at Asia and proceed with the construction.
Many people are asking for the meaning of this so-called re-construction. What is it? For me, history has always been reconstructing itself. Yet, The art history of Taiwan contains multiple contexts and complexity for it has undergone different colonial stages and developing lines. It is even fractured. As a result, we have to reexamine it when reviewing history. There have been many exhibitions about Asia since the 90s, and Taiwan has taken part more or less. As the two speakers Patrick Flores, and Seng Yu Jin, mentioned that there have been such exhibitions ever since the world wars. As far as I know, Taiwan has been a bit closer to Japan in the exhibitions since the 90s. So, I'll briefly introduce the context of it.
For Japan's development like Fukushima Museum, there have been quite a few important exhibitions of Asia, such as exhibitions of East Asia and the recent one about the origin of East Asian art. These exhibitions focus more on the leading role Japan plays in the modern art history in Asia. Some of them stress on East Asian countries' art’s comparative relationship, whether it's in a certain period of history or in one single year. I'd like to concentrate on the context. We could look at what role Taiwan plays in the context Yu Jin mentioned. The context of having different countries co-curate exhibitions, especially Japan Foundation's place in such series. The exhibition called "Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues" held in 2005 could be a rather well-known example. It was co-curated by 3 museums including The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, The National Gallery, Singapore, and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.
In the curation, we can see they were aiming at showcasing "Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues" in Asian countries. We know that cubism is the crucial pioneer in modern art, so choosing such genre to display represents a certain level of significance. This exhibition emphasizes the almost synchronized development of Japan's cubism with that of Europe in 1910. Japan started its cubism creation early. In Southeast Asia, we have Cheong Soo Pieng's artworks. Also, we have Lin Fengmian from China, Kim Youngna and Kim Inhye both from Korea, their paintings were influenced by Cubism in the 30s. In the Philippines and Indonesia, it might happen around 1950-1960 after the world wars. The cubism works appeared around the 50s in Malaysia while it did in the 60s in Thailand. The work collection in India was also from the 60s.
So, we can see that most of the cubism works in Southeast Asia seemed to appear after the world wars. Before the world wars, it mostly happened in Northeast Asia. What's interesting about the exhibition was the role Taiwan plays in it. If we look at the exhibition brochure, we might notice that Taiwan wasn't involved in it. Actually, the curating team came to Taipei Fine Arts Museum and had interviews, but they didn’t really find any representing works for cubism there. That's why Taiwan was absent from the exhibition. We can’t help but wonder: How do we reconstruct Taiwan's art history in such absence? Don’t we have any cubism works? Don’t we have works that align with the world and Asia?
I'm taking one work as an example. It was created in 1942 by a Taiwan artist in Tokyo. The artist is Chuang Shih Ho. After our one-year research, we have finally archived this work in the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts. In other words, the curating team didn’t get to see such works and archives in Taipei Fine Arts Museum or in Taiwan’s art history. Instead of seeing any Taiwan artworks in "Realism in Asian Art" (an exhibition was co-curated by three museums and displayed at Singapore Art Museum in 2010), we saw Taiwan artworks in the exhibition- "Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s to 1990s" (it was held in Tokyo). Thanks to Seng Yu Jin, Professor Sakai, and other significant curators who visited TNNUA in 2017, and in the meantime, there were many Taiwan artists networked with them. As a result, there are different comparative art views from the countries in Asia. I thought that was such an unprecedented experience. So, I was thrilled to see this exhibition in Tokyo because Taiwan artists were finally included.
Chuang Shih Ho's artworks were actually a mixture of Cubism and Futurism, and they appeared in the 40s. We used to think the art genre we had during the Japanese colonial period was Pleinairism or similar to Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism. Today we have the chance to rewrite, as well as to better understand the so-called Modernism. To me, Modernism seems to originate from the southern Taiwan. Chuang Shih Ho is from Tainan, and he was developing in Pingtung for a long time. His contemporary art movement basically started from Kaohsiung. We curated an exhibition, which was named "The Rebirth of Archive: Experiments on the Post-War South Modern Art" at the Art Archive Center of Taiwan (ACCT), of his 4,000 archives. The director of Arts Development Department of MOC even guided the tour for us to see the exhibition. It was an experiment with Chuang Shih Ho's notes, pictures, and profiles in the form of collage.
At this exhibition, we implemented the idea of "Memory Atlas." The profiles can be seen as Chuang Shih Ho's lifetime memories of the 2 World Wars and the Avant-garde art developed after the wars. It also echoes MOC’s argument of Taiwan's art history being in a multiple axis form. The next step is to figure out the context and connection within this multiple axes. So, it responds to the issue proposed by the director of MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art), it was, how the genealogy of modernism was passed to Japan and how the context of Japan influenced Chuang Shih Ho, the Taiwanese student studying in Japan. It is also about how we examine the context of such genealogy today.
Here we can see Chuang Shih Ho's manuscript of French modern painting genealogy. This context is the first stage of our exhibition. The second one is about the Avant-garde art genealogy he got in touch with when he was in Tokyo as well as the other artists from Kaohsiung. Then he developed the Art Nouveau Movement starting from Taipei in the 50s. It was surely a crucial representation of how modern art was introduced in Taiwan in the 50s. Especially, the artist Ho Tiehhua, they knew in Kaohsiung, Fengshan, and set up the "Free China Arts Exhibition." The fourth exhibition area displays Chuang's relationship with other important Kaohsiung artists like Liu Jia-Hau, Liu Chi-Hsiang, and his nephew Liu Sheng-Rong, as well as the Southern Modern Art Movement, started from the south. In central Taiwan, he even developed an organization called "Free Arts Exhibition" and further influenced younger artists and organized Southern Free Arts Exhibition.
Lastly, we talked about his background and the impacts he brought. His criticism actually had an impact on the younger generation regarding modernism ideas such as Cubism, Surrealism and Collage. These are some of his archives in 1943, and we can see his ideas of Bauhaus. And then we formed an Asian identity. It's about how his teacher influenced him and then this influence was further exposed to himself, his friends like Kueh Pik-Tshuan and the younger generation.
From these, we can see the connection between Taiwanese art, the south, and reconstruction. This connection will surely make us rethink about the genealogy of Taiwan's modern art. It’s about how our genealogy is mirrored through imitation, inspiration, subordinate relationship and colonialism with the world’s art history. For example, "Modern American Painting and Sculpture" was published by the United States Information Agency in Hong Kong. The Chinese translation of it had influenced Taiwan as well. These are the connections we can think about, even date back to the context of Japanese Avant-garde art. This is my presentation, and all of your advice is welcome. Thank you.Huang Hsu-Ping
Good morning, everyone. I'm delighted to have the chance to share the results and experiences of Asian Art Biennial by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA), which has been going on since 2007. Due to time constraints, I will briefly respond to some of the topics addressed by the previous speakers through our works. As assistant Professor Chiang mentioned, the context of Taiwan's art history and our relationship with the Southeast Asian countries especially East Asia; even Europe-America. Last year was the 30th anniversary of NTMoFA. And the said context is what the museum has always wanted to showcase through its archives.
Assistant Professor Chiang pointed out the relationship between Taiwan artists and Japanese Avant-garde art, Europe or America during the 30s to 50s before the wars. We are combining archives, art historical context and visual art at the exhibition called "The Outdated New Favorites" coming up this June. Next, I'll be introducing the post-war context. We're now exhibiting LIN Hsin-Yueh’s works now. It's actually about how the influences from Japan or Europe and America on modern arts were shifted to local and self-identifications, and then how the aesthetics were developed in Taiwan. The museum didn't start organizing Asian Art Biennial until May 2007. Before that, the art context displays or exhibition researches were rather targeted at East Asia, and the relationship with China and Japan, or even the modern art context originating from America.
We aimed to exhibit a platform for modern creations since 2007, including historical archives or exhibitions about base researches. However, when we first started the biennale, it was more like a platform for modern artists to co-exhibit or co-create. The exhibition of "Have You Eaten Yet?" was named as a greeting for the starting of the biennale in 2007. It was titled like this mainly because we were hoping to greet and care for our neighboring partners in Asia, so we can pay attention to the cultural issues and creation trends we shared. That was done outside of the Northeast Asia context our research had always focused on. This is the exhibition in 2007. I'll quickly show you the issues and how they are represented we have been working on in the past few years and share my viewpoints at the end.
From 2007 to 2015, the Asian Art Biennials had always been curated by the museum's curators with their research and curatorial team. What we proposed in 2009 was mainly to extend differences in art creation from those disparate Asian cultures and exchange these viewpoints. We exhibited around 50 art groups since 2007 to 2009, and there weren't many Southeast Asian artists during the period; for example, we would only have 1 to 3 Southeast Asian artists among 30 to 50 groups of artists. These are the works of Japanese artists.
Since 2011, we had started facing the issues about the circumstances of the Asian art and the phenomena existed in Taiwanese culture and society. We hoped to re-focus on the attributes between conflict and communication in culture. Therefore, we did many researches and commissioned artists (e.g., we have Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan from the Philippines creating a site-specific creation) in 2011, as an approach to tackle or communicate the issues which I have mentioned above. The topics of the artworks connected to the creating environment of Taiwan, including migration, national identity, belongingness, and the mobility of boundaries or the imagination of crossing boundary, in a specific geographical region. So, they are also a considerable argument to Asian art, as well as the importance of geographical region to the artists themselves. We need to think about how to make it common knowledge or even an ongoing development of co-creation.
The theme of the 3rd Asian Art Biennial in 2013, was entitled "Everyday Life." We responded to the changes which Asia is currently facing. Our goal was to create a new dialogue to the current art forms with modern archives, creations, literature by co-creating exhibitions and having discussions. So, the exhibition included more than 1/5 Southeast Asian artists. Then, we kept expanding this concept a bit further with the 4th Asian Art Biennial — "Artist Making Movement" — in 2015. In 2017, it was the first time that we collaborated with curators from other regions, including Middle East, East Asia, and Southeast Asia; and the theme was entitled "Negotiating the Future." Negotiation and communication are the core of the Asian Art Biennial, and we hope we could co-create a new art history with artists from Southeast Asia or Asia. Outside the museum, we made a road and graffiti leading to the road outside our plaza. We also had an event. This is the work we co-created with the Japanese artist called Chim↑Pom.
The 7th Asian Art Biennial is coming up next week. We invited the Taiwan artist Hsu Chia-Wei and the Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen as co-curators. The title of the exhibition is called "The Strangers from beyond the Mountain and the Sea." In fact, the theme would expand the imagination when it comes to the fact that we are either looking at the aspects based on nations or races, or talking about the cultural tension of Asia, from mountains to seas, minerals to clouds, nothingness to somethingness, low to high, slow to fast, and others like such contrast concept. These abstract concepts are relative and are structured through axes. We are opening in this October.
Lastly, I'd like to address the fact that biennials have been slightly different from ordinary and research-based exhibitions ever since 2007. Oftentimes we are facing many restrictions even phenomena in the Southeast Asian region. They are the migrating status of researchers, creators, and the exhibiting institutes. I'd call it a "traveler" for now. Especially the artists because they are moving around in with different regional projects in different countries with different cultures. They are even collaborating with creators and institutes with various backgrounds.
Transcript (Respondents)Mohamed Najib Bin AHMAD DAWA
First of all, let me thank the committee and the organizer. And I got a lot of notes about the speaker just now, but I don't know where to begin. But let me begin by looking at the whole discussion and be concluding it. We are looking at the first presenter, the Deputy Minister himself, he mentioned looking at similarities. The keyword is similarities, among the Austronesian mentioning the betel nut culture. I would say, the betel nut is actually a fruit with something like chewing gum in the present context. It has been used by most countries in the region until the Pacific Island. And the other one he mentioned was banana.
Well, with the inclusion of the word banana, then he will include Japan because he's part of the culture. During the Japanese rule in Malaysia, banana tree is being used as a symbolic pattern of our currency design. So, we can group Japan into the Austronesian culture. Then, we go to the concept of reclaiming which Yu Jin from Singapore has mentioned before and the idea of our Filipino friend, Patrick, he actually makes an effort to review our history carefully. So, the whole thing is about trying to move away, as I see it, to move away from the stigma. Stigma in the early 19th century when The West claimed that the whole of the eastern region as the white man's burden.
But when we look at the present, we are still stuck with the Western dogma of art, we still look at, link ourselves, and associate ourselves with The West. So, why so? I'm trying to promote the idea about looking at the orient, revisiting the orient, or the orientalism, or The East, for that matter. But looking at what Taiwan presented The East which includes America. But I'm not too sure about that because we have boundaries with the Pacific Ocean.
So, when you look at the economy and political perspective now, The West is revisiting Asia. And in terms of economy, they are looking at the sleeping dragon all along, but now they are re-awakening the dragons. So, that's the Mainland China. But with the Southbound Policy, we are looking at down south, linking with the Austronesian continent and we’re looking back into our past. Revisiting the past is brilliant, I think, like what Yu Jin presented to us just now about reclaiming not only territorial but the culture itself.
And I would say let us pause for a moment and look back into the east; revisiting and turn back and look at the East. I think it is not a problem to us, because we do still have that values. And we do still have that culture with us, the artifacts that we need to revisit. Revisiting it and rewriting it means to say we got to rewrite our own history, our own narrative. Not history, history has been written from "his story," not "our story." We should begin with our story, our narrative, then, yes, we will present something which in the past like our values, or we can call it in the Southeast Asian region or in Cambodia. Those values like Budi, Rasa, and Bhava.
In the Hindu manuscript mentioning Rasa and Bhava, we regard that seven levels of rasa, meaning taste, not only just superficial taste like what we are now, just taste; but Rasa and Bhava, seven levels of taste that include our inner self, not just the outer self. So in terms of art, it's all about expression from the inner self, the inner soul! But we see now is very much what you observe and what you see and then you expressing it, whether that's a soul in the art or not. Because most of the artwork the famous artwork from Asia always links with the artifacts or with the artwork from the west, like Cubism. It is just because we face the same kind of history, history of colonialism. We are not free from that yet.
So, you can see 1945 is the year, the most countries became independent. And after 1945, everybody starts rushing to the west and studying in the West and brought back what's in the West back home presenting to us, forcing us to swallow everything from the West. But that's history in the past, but I'm trying to give a sample like Lai Chi Wan’s work from Taiwan, and then you try to compare another work but also a famous artist in Taiwan, Legend Ho. You just compare these two artworks. And then the other artist, the sculptor Wang Wen-Chih, using bamboo and constructs a very big installation like three-story buildings. So, just observe these three artists. Very different kinds of approaches. And you can see bamboo sculptor is trying to come up with an oriental artwork with oriental values, with oriental approaches to it, where he incorporates the whole village to help him build the installation using bamboo.
So, the concept of the whole village working together is the values in Southeast Asia where we call it Gotham Rouyn. When we move to the house, the whole village will come and move and carry the house. So this concept and the values in artwork transmit the message with values and education. I think that's the oriental perspective in terms of the aesthetics value because our aesthetics, the oriental aesthetics, is very much different from western aesthetics. Our concept of beauty is different. I was told by one professor from Cornell in 1996, she mentioned to me, the East will become the center of fashion. Well, we are still waiting for that. It’s either Hong Kong or anywhere in Asia. So let me just stop there first and I'll come back to that.Lin Yu-Shih
Thanks to our host, Nobuo, as well as our friends here today. We've got a lot to respond to regarding this topic. We’ve had so many wonderful talks given by great speakers today. I’ll briefly outline the reasons why we have this topic today in avoidance of any digression. Like the Deputy Minister had mentioned, the topic was originated from the responses from the committee members at the multilateral discussion with the minister last year. However, we were actually talking about that Taiwan has been absent from the modern art exhibitions in Asia, and Director Chiang had noticed it as well.
In the past, Taiwan has oftentimes been absent when it comes to the curation of art history transformation of Asia. That's why we proposed to the ministry that it is actually a crisis to Taiwan of being absent in the position in Asian culture. Then we issued an appeal based on this phenomenon: "Return to Asia," trying to fix it. The ministry itself has already been reconstructing the art history of Taiwan. So, I guess that’s why it seemed confusing to the deputy minister. What we want to propose is the idea of "Return to Asia." If the context is clear to all of us, then it might be easier to connect to the topic we are addressing today. And so we can all understand why we have Mr. Nobuo, Professor Patrick, and Seng Yu Jin to talk about how we can explore the role of Taiwan through the angle of curation art history in the process of Asian art history. I'll briefly respond to two of the topics that I consider crucial as a local curator.
I started the research, survey and field investigation of aboriginal modern art in the last few years of the 20th century. I have also gradually completed some of the basic construction work of Taiwanese aboriginal modern art history. When I'm thinking about the relationship between Taiwanese art history and Asian art history, it’s easy to say we all share the Austronesian culture elements or even, we're all related to Oceania. Yet, the attention to art history or the curating strategies is still too rough. Why? The second phenomenon I’m proposing today is very crucial. Director Najib also mentioned the post-war generation. We must point out that it’s not specifically an art scene after 1945. We're solely looking at the Asian artists born after the wars.
There's an existing term called Baby Boomers when we look at the global population change. After the wars, most of the people got back to their normal lives and continued working, and that’s when and why the baby boomers emerged. It represented a whole new generation. In Taiwan, we know where the aboriginals came from, and they were on this land way before the Han people came colonizing or even the reign of the Japanese government. Then why do we have to turn it upside down when it comes to contemporary art history or even the curating strategies? First, we have to clarify what baby boom generation means, and then the aboriginal contemporary art in the 1990s. This unique structure of transformation did not solely take place in Taiwan but also in Asia or Oceania.
Let me talk about the baby boom generation. By definition, we know that the second world war ended in 1945, so the baby boom generation is the people born from 1945 to 1960. However, those who were born 3 to 5 years prior to 1945, or 5 years after 1960 are also seen as part of the generation. There are a few features: I'd like to start with the internal ones in Taiwan. And then we'll know that we share a lot in common with other Asian countries.
The first feature is that this is a generation looking for identities. For example, the Taiwanese before 1945 are seen as Japanese; the Chinese who hadn't arrived in Taiwan in 1949 identified themselves as Chinese. However, you don't really have choices but to face the development of the whole generation in the coming 20 to 30 years. In the process, we still remember how distinct the identities were as the Chinese or the Japanese from 1950 to 1960, so it's actually a transformative process of finding the identities.
Director Chiang asked me to share an article about the south. It's more interesting to look at this from the perspective of the south. The south represented by Taiwan before 1945 to the empire of Japan had a different meaning. On the other hand, to the writers and artists arriving after 1949, the idea of the south was different from that of the empire of Japan. If there weren't any of these elaborations, argument, or even the flip of its meaning about the idea of the south in comparison with the aboriginal movements in the mid-1980 to 1990.
When we realized the concept of Austronesia, new south thus emerged. If there weren't a south we were referring to in 1945, even with its meaning flipped over, or even when different parties interpreted it differently… it might have been a "someone else's south," and the south we are talking about today is the place where we are located. We all need the baby boom generation to finish either the identities or the construction of the culture.
I'm only addressing Taiwan, but I believe our friends from other Asian counties do feel quite a lot of similarities when it comes to their countries. Not to mention we were seriously and globally marginalized or even facing the crisis of being extinct at this phase. In the 1970s Taiwan was cast out of the United Nations; in the late 1960s, the US established ties with China and thus broke it off with Taiwan. In the whole process, Taiwan was constantly isolated and marginalized. The Taiwanese people living on the island were seeking cultural identities. We do know there was the argument of Taiwan nativist literature except for the art area at the time. People were questioning what identities they had; they were asking: should I keep on being a Chinese or a new cultural subject?
When I talk about the baby boomer artists, I’d usually mention two important Taiwanese working in cultural fields active in the same period. A lot of artists were born from 1940 to 1950. The founder of the well-known Cloud Gate Lin Hwai-Min was born in 1947. He founded Cloud Gate at the time of the greatest identity crisis. Another internationally renowned artist is the director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who was born in 1947 as well. He never claimed something like "We should dance in our own way" as Lin did. However, he paid attention to Penghu by filming "The Boys from Fengkuei" (a 1983 film directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien) as well as the history of the February 28 Incident. His films were basically the trunk of Taiwanese cinema in the 1980s. It was a time like that.
What I was trying to say is that if Taiwanese people didn’t pursue their own subjectivities in such a period or even learn the inter-subjectivity with other cultures, the situations for aboriginal movements would have got very hard after the 1980s. It would have turned out to be an evil cycle of the colonialized colonializing and abusing the underprivileged.
That's why the art performance of the baby boomer generation is very crucial to me. In Taiwan, I call it "the mature generation of Taiwan arts" when I'm curating. First of all, they served as the first group representing the art identities in Taiwan. Secondly, most of them are already 70 to 80 years old, so they are entitled to be called "the mature generation of Taiwan arts."
Several of the artists mentioned by Director Najib actually belong to such a generation. One of the artists he mentioned is Lai Chi Wan, he is one of the professors at TNNUA. The other artist we can compare with is Legend Hou, also known as Hou Chun-Ming. He is also a significant representative of the baby boomer generation as well as "the mature generation of Taiwan arts." Lai Chi Wan was born in Hong Kong, so his name is Cantonese, which is his mother tongue. After he moved to and developed in Taiwan, he became a great contrast to Hou Chun-Ming, who is an artist focusing on the local art performance and visual elements in Taiwan. He is also a representation of "the mature generation of Taiwan arts." On the other hand, the director talked about an artist who makes his artworks with bamboos. Did you know who he was talking about? Wang Wen-Chih.
Last, let me briefly conclude my talk. The one important thing we've been proposing is to sort out this unique history of ours and to face it through curation and such related deeds. It also echoes to what Director Najib had been talking about these days: the more locally we do it, the more globally it appears with its commonality. The director took several examples of the common crops in Asia such as betel nuts and bamboos as the commonality of Asia. Mine is the baby boomer generation. I choose to look at the development of the regional culture and arts of this generation with people as the core, and they share the same structure. Thank you.Nobuo Takamori
Thanks to Mr. Lin’s wonderful response. I'd like to shortly conclude today's discussion. The topic of this morning is very crucial. It is to propose a new and feasible methodology for the literature studies, the development of curation, or the composing of the art history or narratives of Southeast Asia or Taiwan.
There is this so-called comparative literature, but it's quite a pity that such a methodology has just begun to develop globally when we are conducting art history research or curating an art exhibition. However, the talks this morning were all very brilliant. Whether Professor Flores’ speech or the talk about National Gallery Singapore's research, and the permanent exhibitions, they all use comparison as a research method. It’s impossible to avoid such an issue during the process of building the subjectivity of Southeast Asia. For me, it's also important to apply such a methodology when we’re constructing a more global or culturally equal perspective to look at the global art history.
For example, I bought a Haitian art history book in Europe few years ago. Theoretically, Haiti and Asia aren't directly related, but it felt like I was reading the art history of some Asian country when I finished the book. The first chapters always begin with someone studying in Europe or having a European teacher, and then the second chapters would follow by stating that the people need new local modernism for the country or some kind of unique modernism that can represent the people as well as reflect the country's modernization. Then the third chapter would jump to the discussion on if we should organize our own biennale when we start to develop modern art and there are artists attending biennales or going to São Paulo.
The structures of different art history materials are the same. Of course, such structure doesn't apply to the mainstream West European art history such as France, Germany or the UK, but it matches the art history structure of 80-90% countries or regions. I believe no matter it's in Taiwan, Southeast Asia or Northeast Asia, such a methodology must share something in common with the globe when it comes to the research results within the mentioned regions. It’s not merely aimed at relieving our own anxiety within the region though it was the reason why it started.
Lastly, it comes back to the local issues in Taiwan. It was also mentioned several times today, whether it is Chiang Po-Shin's literature work or the work of NTMFA, they all respond to Taiwan's anxiety of being on the edge of enforced disappearance or never really existing. Out of my personal perspective, I've always deemed Taiwan as a part of Southeast Asia. Not as the politically defined ASEAN but out of the incidents and relations of politics or history. If we could master some of the methodologies as tools according to the discussions these days, I believe we have all noticed: when we are ever capable of dealing with complex texts and situations, or even developing some kind of methodologies during the process. So, it would be a naturally deep dialogue between Southeast and Northeast Asia. This metaphor is how I'd like to end the talks today.
Thank you very much for the talks and the panelists. I have a question for Najib. The question is about when you mentioned the oriental value in the context based on the history of colonialism. Would you please say more of what oriental value in the eastern context?Mohamed Najib Bin AHMAD DAWA
I will just put it to something like a simple in terms of the values. It’s all about what is surrounding us that we have lost. So, I'm trying to come up with the term "reverse migration." When you look at the sculptor, Wang Wen-Chih from Taiwan, he's actually been exploring all over the world. But now, he went back to his village. So, it is something like a "reverse migration," he went back home, and built up from home and putting it into global. So, the values that we can observe are togetherness. And the oriental values, as we care for the elders so much, and we didn't pack our parents in nursing homes or anywhere.
So, those are the values, and the values would invade in the art like the artwork of Wang Wen-Chih, the audience will be caught into his sculpture. And this is the situation, which he is trying to echo what's happening to us and what values we have lost at the moment; then we blindly just walk and to be caught into his artwork. So, this is the concept of togetherness, but when we look at oriental and there's not even I think everybody born in the east that embraces a belief. And this belief actually, in any religion that preaches about the goodness in life that we are just stopping here for a moment, and we are moving to the afterlife. And these are the time that if this can be instilled all these values that we look around, in our culture, in our custom, then the artwork will transmit.
So, most artworks sometimes are just very superficial, with just one layer. You are looking at unrecognizable objects. But when you look at the East, in an eastern way, when Yu Jin presented to us with Raden Saleh's work, a big lion there, and then the initial dagger that kills a big lion. So, the subjects of the artwork, the message transmitting it, these are the things that those values that transmit from the artwork, must be good and positive values to inculcate and nurture the goodness in life. This is what I observed in the orient.
I was very much embraced with the Western artwork and looking back and trying to identify who I am. Am I trailing? Am I a great follower? Or what is my identity? When you look at UNESCO now, they have launched the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goals are all about the issues of the environment, eco-friendliness, and sustainability. All these issues that brought to us and presented to the whole world at 10 points, when you look at that those values, eco-friendly and everything is all about the values that we embraced once upon a time. And we loved it.
So, why not look backward for a while? It’s to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it, and more fit for the prime function of looking forward. I'm quoting this from Mary Catherine Bateson. It's about proposing to us: "Why don't we do a reflection? And we look." So, it's all about revisiting and relook and rewrite and re-establish. That's it. Thank you.Q2
I'd like to present my appreciation for having such a wonderful cultural feast by so many professionals. Here is my question: Southeast Asia comprises of multiple nations and there are eclectic cultural elements in the region. So, how do we present it even better with its culture through curating or promoting? By doing this, we could expose its culture to more people and hopefully, it might mutually boost more understanding of cultures between different nations. I knew that we’ve done quite a lot about it, but it seems inadequate in terms of education or the management of cultural environment in Taiwan. I'd like to know that if Malaysia and Singapore have been facing any challenges or difficulties, which are similar with Taiwan, on disseminating cultures? Could you please share some real cases with us?
And another question is: In terms of promoting cultures, it seems the willingness to accessing culture of the young generation drops a lot in the recent years, and this kind of situation also happens in the UK and France. So I'd like to know if Southeast Asia countries are facing such problems and challenges. Thank you.Seng Yu-Jin
Thank you for your question. The answer to your first question: about the challenge. Challenges are many when it comes to studying the history of arts in Southeast Asia. As you have mentioned, Southeast Asia is a region of many cultures and ethnicities, which are characterized with multi-languages, which presents a major barrier. So, at the National Gallery Singapore, most of our researchers know another language, especially one spoken in Southeast Asia. To me, this is very important for doing research.
As for exhibits of the Southeast Asian works, art, and the art history, there are other difficulties-research on the history of Southeast Asian art is not quite there yet. Therefore, the National Gallery Singapore is planning to publish a book this year, or maybe next, which is a compilation of articles about modernism from different Southeast Asian countries. All different languages will be translated into English and compiled for publication. In fact, we have been working on this book for 3 years. It is a very difficult project. We have a group of about 10 Southeast Asian scholars, Patrick being one of them. We collect about 30 articles about modernism from each country, then translate them into English. The expected publication date is in next year.
Southeast Asia is a big region. We have this idea about collecting articles written by artists in the 1950s and 1960s or even earlier in the pre-WWII era. The articles are abundant but obscure due to the negligence of research community and lack of translation. We in National Gallery Singapore think that there is no shortcut to research. There is no quick fix. We have to start from the roots and go slowly upward. This is the answer to a small part of the question.Huang Hsu-Ping
About the subject of Southeast Asian art, or the promotion of education of Asian art, we're not able to do it like the National Gallery Singapore, and hire many researchers from Southeast Asia with multi-languages background. Based on this situation, we are now planning an educational project to cultivating more volunteers for culture and art with multilingual ability. This project will go beyond the scope of curation.
We hope to reach out to more people with different cultural backgrounds in terms of education and promotion. We are thinking of recruiting children of new immigrants in Taiwan with Southeast Asian backgrounds, who have the advantage of proficiency in their parent's mother tongue in Southeast Asia. The promotion of this project is more than education. We hope to develop those children to become future staff members. This is our plan for a future mechanism of interacting and collaborating with different art museums in Southeast Asia. I’ll end my brief response here.