Art for a New Asia

Today I visited an exhibit featuring the best of the best of the competitors vying for the Singapore Art Museum’s APB Foundation Signature Art Prize (that’s a mouthful, I know). This prize “recognizes the best in contemporary art produced over the last three years across Asia Pacific and Central Asia.” At this point, the artists in the competition have been narrowed down to fifteen finalists, and these are on display on the ground floor of The National Museum (why the National Museum is hosting the Singapore Art Museum’s competition, I’m not sure).

There are a number of video installations and a few mixed media pieces, all of which are somewhere between difficult and impossible to capture in photos. My favorite of these was an instillation called Milky Bay, by Japanese artist Yuichiro Tamura. He recreated the interior of a seaman’s club in Yokohama circa 1951 (think pool tables, a bookshelf, and a sad Christmas tree). He overlaid this room with narration, words projected on the wall, and television sets featuring images of bodybuilders. His work asked the viewer to think about how we view the body (and how other groups, including the Nazis and a famous 20th century Japanese author named Yukio Mishima, have considered the human form). Tamura created concrete sculptures to accompany his installation:

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The other piece that I really loved was called After Paradise Lost #1, by an Indonsian artist named Gede Mahendra Yasa. He uses a traditional style of Balinese painting called “Batuan,” in which the canvas is filled with hundred of figures and events. But he weaves western themes in with his work. Here, he brings Dutch colonizers onto the scene …

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… while in another section of the canvas, he recreates The Lion Hunt, which was originally painted by Indonesian Raden Saleh in the mid-nineteenth century (see one of my older blog posts for my viewing of this painting):

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Yasa includes his own renditions of several older paintings within his enormous canvas. Here, he parallels The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault (on the right) and the plight of modern-day immigrants:

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I spent a long time studying the many tiny scenes in Yasa’s piece. The Infinite Episode (by Indian artist Jitish Kallat), on the other hand, did not interest me so much. This piece featured twenty different species of animals, rendered in dental plaster (why?), all sleeping, all roughly the same size.

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The signage indicated that this set of animals was meant to “provoke broader deliberations on human coexistence, hierarchy, and inequity.” I don’t see it, but maybe others do.

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I liked the shadows created by Kaokao #1, an installation by a Maori art group called the Mata Aho Collective.

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One of the works with which I spent the most time was a combination of pieces titled He was lost yesterday and we found him today and Museum of the Lost. This creation of Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong of Hong Kong takes old photographs that include people whose faces we never see (here, look at the photographer on the far left) …

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… and then stages a replica of that person on a large scale:

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It’s fascinating to see anonymous, sometimes peripheral figures become the centerpiece of their own work of art, whether it’s this woman from an early 1980s Hong Kong postcard …

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… or this woman from a street scene in Nairobi, Kenya:

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