Di Liu presents five periodicals that cultivate transnational dialogue and exchange in Asia and beyond
Over the last six decades, periodicals have been central in fostering conversations about art and emergent forms of visuality. As sites of exhibition and frontiers of artistic experimentation, they have played an important role; this is especially true in many parts of Asia where institutional support for the arts is limited. Many modernist art journals of the twentieth century either documented or were themselves part of avant-garde art movements in the region. Even today, periodicals continue to cultivate transnational dialogue and exchange, defining what it means to be modern and contemporary in specific locales.
This article highlights five such periodicals from across and beyond Asia, all found within AAA Collection.
Signals is a bi-monthly art news bulletin published in London between 1964 and 1966. Edited by Filipino artist David Medalla, Signals began with the intent “to document the shows” at the gallery Signals in London, and “to signify the new direction in art and in science”.1 Medalla expanded Signals to include articles on science, physics, architecture, nature, poetry, and international political affairs—subjects that sparked his personal interest.
By documenting exhibitions and events in Britain and abroad, Signals brought together leading innovative artists, writers, and poets from Europe and Latin America, and became an international forum for kinetic art. Artists featured in the journal include Jesús Rafael Soto, Takis, Lygia Clark, Sergio de Camargo, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Eduardo Chillida, and Marcela Salvadori among others. Contributors from the Latin American cultural world include Jorge Luis Borges, Ferreira Gullar, Walmir Ayala, Sonia Lins, and Pablo Neruda.
In the 1960s, the mainstream art world in the United Kingdom was focused on the renaissance of British art and held an isolationist and formalist view of art. By comparison, Signals brought a fresh perspective. Though the publication had a short life span, it remains a crucial and timely document of the mid-1960s international art scene.
Fine Arts in China is a four-page weekly newspaper that began publishing nationwide from July 1985 until the end of 1989, totalling 229 issues. Its broad-minded editorial team, among whom Li Xianting (“the Godfather of contemporary Chinese art”) was the only full-time editor, made this print publication a key player in the development of avant-garde and conceptual art in China in the 1980s.
By publishing reports, critical reviews, and discussions, Fine Arts in China introduced various avant-garde art projects, such as the group 85 New Wave, Wu Shanzhuan’s Red Humour installations, and Concept 21 to a wider audience. As a popular periodical aimed at the general public, Fine Arts in China also reported on fashion shows, the future of industrial design, aesthetics of advertisements, and trends in children’s wear, which makes it an important documenter of social changes in 1980s China.
Periodicals were a more important means of exchange of ideas than exhibitions, since art students and artists were still confined to their workplaces all over the country. Fine Arts in China therefore became a major platform for discussion. It published many thought-provoking articles, especially by young artists and researchers, such as Li Xiaoshan's “Chinese Painting Already Reached a Dead End” (中國畫已到了窮途末日的時候). In order to generate more discussion, Li Xianting himself used many pseudonyms to publish his own, often controversial, writings, including, “The Era Awaits the Life Passion of the Big Soul” (時代期待著大靈魂的生命激情) and “What is Important is Not Art” (重要的不是藝術). Rather than taking a particular side, the newspaper embraced different points of view, and sparked critical debates rarely seen before. Many of the arguments still hold relevance for the contemporary Chinese art world today.
sentAp! is an English-language quarterly visual art magazine published in Malaysia intermittently between 2005 and 2015. Founded by curators and artists, it focused on the contemporary art scenes in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, as well as other areas of South East Asia. It invited scholars and writers to contribute theoretical essays on a variety of topics, such as the idea of “Asian” art, art criticism as a practice, and Chinese Maximalism. Its contributors are recognisable names in the art world from this region, including Gina Fairley, Bharti Lalwani, Sophia Natasha, Simon Soon, Adeline Ooi, Beverly Yong, Sarena Abdullah, Sharon Chin, and Chu Yuan. By publishing in English and actively participating in international art events such as documenta 12 Magazine Project, sentAp! covered local art scenes, but reached a wider audience.
The adoption of English rather than Bahasa Malaysia as the language of the journal is a deliberate choice, according to sentAp! editor Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin, whose aim was to elevate Malaysian art to the international stage. Yet, there was harsh criticism about this decision in Malaysia.2 This reflects, to some extent, the tension between the local and the global art worlds, as well as an aspiration to become international in a post-colonial context, which is arguably a great driving force in the development of contemporary art in South East Asia.
Artrends was established in Madras (now Chennai), India, in 1961 by the Progressive Painters’ Association of Madras, one of the oldest art organisations in India. It was the brainchild of K. C. S. Paniker, artist and educator, and Professor Josef James, scholar of the Madras Movement in contemporary Indian art. As a quarterly bulletin in English, it was published from October 1961 to April 1967, and after a brief break from July 1971 to April 1982.
The range of articles in Artrends is broad and varied, with many illustrations. It features art criticism, debates on art education, reviews of exhibitions of Indian artists abroad, as well as reprints of articles from international journals, and more. The periodical republished “Dear Theo,” a series of letters from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, in serial format. Many of the contributors are well-known artists, critics, and intellectuals in India, including Paniker (who wrote under the pen name Sunanda), Geeta Kapur, M. V. Devan, S. V. Vasudev, and Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni. Artrends is also a great source of information on Indian artists active between the 1960s and the 1980s. Publishing in Chennai, away from major art centres like Bombay, Baroda, or New Delhi, Artrends brought to the fore a diverse range of artists and filled a major lacuna in the history of contemporary Indian painting and sculpture during that period.
According to sculptor S. Nandagopal, who was instrumental in collating all the issues of Artrends and making them available as a book more than four decades later, Artrends captured “a search for identity that was emblematic of the time,” when artists were trying to find “a way to bind the Indian ethos with Western abstraction.”3
Since 2011, Shilpa O Shilpi (meaning Art and Artist), a quarterly arts magazine, has been published by the Bengal Foundation in Dhaka, Bangladesh. One of the few magazines in Bengali dedicated solely to covering the arts of the country, Shilpa O Shilpi plays an important role delivering writing and images on art and culture to a bigger audience.
In comparison with literature, which has inspired numerous Bengali magazines that circulate to a wider public, there are very few arts and culture periodicals in the language. Since the 2000s, Bangladesh has had among others two major English-language art magazines in circulation: Depart, which has recently ceased publishing, and the Bengal Foundation’s Jamini, ongoing. In a country where the primary language of cultural discourse is Bengali, Shilpa O Shilpi fills that vacuum by bringing together essays, reviews, images of artwork, and photography.
The articles in the magazine are varied—ranging from tributes to the early modern master artists of Bangladesh, historical essays on pre-partition Bengal and its cultural ecology, and overviews on Western artists or art movements, to discussions on contemporary art exhibitions and events in Bangladesh and monographs on South Asian artists. In addition to the visual arts, the publication features regular essays and articles on movements and figures from the fields of architecture, design, and performance.
By encouraging a generation of Bengali writers on the arts in Bangladesh, Shilpa O Shilpi thereby enables a contemporary cultural milieu that is rooted in the local to emerge.
Di Liu is AAA Project Assistant.
1. David Medalla, “Signals,” The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-war Britain, ed. by Rasheed Araeen. London: The South Bank Centre, 1989, p. 115.
2. Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin, quoted in Gina Fairley “SentAp! – Art without Prejudice,” Nafas Art Magazine, September 2006, accessed 10 August 2017, http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2006/sentap.
3. Divya Kumar, “Pages from art history,” The Hindu, 13 August 2011, accessed 10 August 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/pages-from-art-history/article2353781.ece.
- Mon, 30 Oct 2017