Ideas

Art as Voice: Political Art in Southeast Asia at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

As the 1990s dawned in Southeast Asia, social landscapes evolved partly due to economic change. Financial expansion was brought on variously by globalisation, authoritarian regimes’ capitalistic strategies such as Suharto’s New Order, growing middle classes spurred by 1970s advances in public education, and other factors such as the end of Cold War polarities. Increased, if unevenly shared, prosperity fostered a degree of social progress, as well, conversely, as a more sustained and broad-based popular questioning and dissent. Breakneck urbanisation in predominantly rural countries altered the social fabric in both the countryside and cities, giving birth to a new class of urban poor and dispossessed farmers. Acute social problems, paired with a growing disparity between rich and poor, provoked many to challenge the status quo and modify their traditional relationship with authority.1

Vocal and active protest was embarked upon in some parts, while in others, change of a more institutional nature was implemented. In 1986, the People Power movement claimed victory in the Philippines, toppling the Marcos dictatorship. Thailand, politically unstable for most of its post-1932 constitutional monarchy history, saw eruptions of sporadic violence through the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986, Vietnam’s open-door economic policy doi moi was initiated, and at this time foreign-investment-fueled-capitalism in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand ushered these countries, which became known as the "Asian Tigers," into the global economy. Internally, new affluence promoted confidence, which in turn generated a more pronounced awareness of the region’s lack of civil society. Externally, economic ascendance produced international visibility, the gaze from beyond Southeast Asia’s borders reinforcing from outside this new political awareness and sense of voice.2

With this fresh assurance built both from within and outside came an invigorated social presence at the individual level,3 artists across the region increasingly using their work to explore problems such as inequality, corruption, environmental rape, and authoritarianism amongst others.4 In Singapore in 1988, The Artists Village collective, socially articulate, was formed; activist-artist Vasan Sitthiket, shockingly anti-establishment in conservative Thailand, put up his incisive 1995 I Love Thai Culture at Bangkok’s National Gallery. In Jogjakarta, artists produced street art and performances for the public at large while FX Harsono and Dadang Christanto communicated the oppression suffered by the Indonesian people in the waning years of the Suharto period.

A little later, in communist Vietnam, a group broke away from the mainstream, their paintings, performances, and installations falling foul of the censors by raising individualism and sexuality, which both they and the authorities often equated with social and political critique. In conservative Muslim Malaysia, Zulkifli Yusoff created the provocatively louche Ahmad character, who already sullied by his dog, is depicted contracting HIV on his travels abroad.5

Though seemingly revisiting the strong relationship between art and social function6 that had characterised some earlier regional practices, artists did not aim to renew ties with descriptive critiques of old, but to answer unprecedented and inescapable sociopolitical realities with far broader conceptually and formally nuanced creative methodologies, mirroring the complexities of the times.

Thus, though some practitioners in Indonesia and the Philippines had sporadically shown the way more than a decade earlier,7 in wider Southeast Asia, by the 1990s, art was more comprehensively offering a critique of, and sometimes alternative to, current power structures. In countries still denied democracy and personal voice, visual art was a potent, and in Indonesia as it turned out historically, a very real vehicle of popular empowerment.8

The visual practices of the 1990s as those of some today, active in bent, have little in common with the literal, didactic genre of previous decades, nor with social realism of the years before. Yet vocal as they are, neither do they bear much resemblance to the righteously anti-establishment works of late 1960s/early 1970s EuroAmerica. Activist in the sense that they invite reaction as opposed to a passive taking-in, they offer expressive nuance and conceptual refinement, their subtlety sometimes masking their critical stance, works of art before all else.

This challenging of national power structures and their offshoots—institutional corruption, cronyism, authoritarianism, abuse of power, the biases of racial policies, uncontested monolithic systems, and in addition, organised religion and the monarchy in Thailand—is often coupled with an investigation of evolving personal and cultural identities, quite new in societies where individualism is still suspect.9 The search for empowerment at a civil society level is never far from the quest for self. These engaged works, neither a reaction against formalism nor political for the sake of it, are the positive response to the faint whiff of freedom permeating Southeast Asia from the 1990s.

Nation, memory, and the disputed ownership of history

One much recurring subject of critique is the nation and the nationalisms responsible around Southeast Asia for the nation-building discourses that had been nurtured in the wake of mid-century decolonisation. The critique is aimed at official nationalism enlisted by the state to justify authoritarianism and social conservatism. With their work, many artists question monolithic state structures.10 More often than not, their critique of nation is overlaid with commentary about memory and history, in part because official interpretations or misrepresentations of history conveniently justify abuse of power.

In Thailand, Vasan Sitthiket, Sutee Kunavichayanont, Manit Swriwanichpoom, and Ing K are amongst the most articulate on the themes of history, memory, and nation, mounting several exhibitions contesting restrictive official definitions.11 Sutee Kunavichayanont’s seminal child’s school desk series History Class, begun in 2000, is exemplar in its call to active ownership and writing of national history,12 while Vasan Sitthiket’s Blue October of 1996, borrowing original press images documenting the infamous 1976 Thammasat University rightist massacre of students, is one of the most powerfully expressive commentaries on history and memory of late twentieth-century Thailand. Indeed, if Vasan Sitthiket in particular holds the nation-state and the power makers it supports accountable for the many ills that plague Thailand, he is also proactive in using his practice to propose a more enlightened way forward. The artist’s 1998 Constitution, produced in the wake of the drafting of the new 1997 Thai constitution, sets out a utopian, egalitarian, and sometimes anarchistic agenda for civic harmony in the country.

In Malaysia, with its pro–ethnic majority Bumiputra policy, the critique of official nationalism falls to non-ethnically Malay artists such as Bayu Utomo Radjkin and Wong Hoy Cheong. Wong’s works from the 1990s onward investigate history, context, and the shifting nature of inclusion and exclusion from gender, ethnic, and national vantage points. As an ethnic Chinese within a Malay/Muslim majority, Wong’s viewpoint is laden with historical baggage.13 His 2005 minaret installation erected on the roof of the Guangdong Museum of Art in the context of the second Guangzhou Triennale is a study in the perennially-moving cultural framework that characterises the region: for if Wong is a minority Chinese in Malaysia, in Guangzhou (an ancient Muslim enclave in China) he is a Malaysian-Chinese, reminding the PRC majority Chinese of their Muslim minority’s heritage. Concept, sign, and history are elegantly entwined to produce a cogent work of art. Wong was commissioned to produce a second minaret installation for the recent Southeast Asian survey at Singapore Art Museum, Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991–2011. Singapore’s population, like that of China, is Chinese majority. Ethnic Malays are a minority in Singapore, as Singapore, like Malaysia, experienced racial tensions in the late 1960s. To this day, racial and religious issues are taboo in the city-state. Indeed, had the work been erected (the museum vetoed the commission), the project would have provided an extra layer of meaning because the building the art museum is housed in was once a Christian boys’ school, and it is suggested by some that rising Christian evangelism in the city-state, though never openly discussed, may prove a divisive force in years to come.

In Indonesia, the critique of nation changes considerably after 1998 following the fall of the Suharto regime and the transition to democracy. Concerns about the cohesion of the state, the role of the citizen in a budding but imperfect democracy, and the effect of empowerment and newly-expressible pluralism on personal identity, all impinge visual art at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Heri Dono’s 2000 Wayang Legenda: Indonesia Baru wayang puppets represents islands of the Indonesian archipelago as the nation threatens to break up in the wake of the disintegration of centralised power post-Suharto. The installation alludes to uncertainty about a less cohesive nation, coloured by a sense of personal angst relating to identity politics in newly communitarian-polarised Indonesia. Similarly, Agus Suwage’s Give me more questions, an enveloping, public-space-scale graphic and installation piece, is a skeptical work about public education that forcefully makes the case for the reappropriation of history and schoolroom learning as a means to individual voice and social stake.

A few years later, Jompet Kuswidananto’s 2008 Java’s Machine installation comments on the nation and underlying tensions associated with cultural hybridity. The empty-costume piece, devoid of faces, can also be read as pointing to colonial–indigenous responsibility for authoritarianism in Indonesia. The nation has metamorphosed since 1998, but artists continue to view it with distrust.

The Philippines dubiously boasts the region’s longest colonial history. The archipelago was also the region’s first country to discover a modern national consciousness, history and nation apprehended through social realism throughout the twentieth century. In recent years, works elliptically exploring the intersection of history, power, and personal identity have appeared. Alwin Reamillo has been dissecting Filipino history since the 1990s. His multiple-work Grand Piano Project of the last decade, both autobiographical and densely referential in terms of national identity, goes beyond his 1995 pictorial P.I. for Sale—its invitation to audiences to sit down and play suggests all are owners and active deciders of history.

Briccio Santos’ 2009 Heritage Tunnel is a metaphor for the illusory certainty of history. Visually poetic in its mirror-to-infinity display of stacked books referencing early Pinoy nationalism, cultural and ethnic hybridity, and American mass culture via US-made trash fiction, the tunnel alludes to the tussle over the ownership and definition of history inevitable in the context of post-colonial Philippines, and by extension Southeast Asia beyond. Brenda Fajardo’s earlier, graphically refined fourteen-part paper sequence Tarot Card Series (1997) offers a critical view of Pinoy history through the ages. Narrated through the conceit of tarot cards, the artist’s seemingly literal description of events is subtly tempered by ideas of chance, choice, and play, Fajardo suggesting the fickleness of historical readings. Roberto Feleo’s 2009 narrative glass dome installation Virinas connects Pinoy colonial history, church power, and indigenous pagan beliefs as a means of examining the nation. Illustrating scenes that present the past from multiple perspectives, Feleo too raises questions about the singular interpretation of history. Some artists, looking at recent history beyond home borders, examine competing regional nationalisms in their work. Tran Luong’s Moving Forward and Backwards performance14 rethinks Vietnamese/Cambodian relations in the twenty-first century, metaphorically proposing a cleaning or purging of the two war-making neighbors’ preconceptions dating back to Khmer Rouge era incursions. Tran’s compatriot Vu Dan Tan, in his 1999 RienCarNation performance, uses irony and a mythologised Western urban mass culture to compare Vietnam’s 1975 military victory against America, with American consumer society’s trouncing of traditional Vietnamese values a quarter of a century later.

A contestation of nation can also be seen as an affirmation of the village. Rural life and the submission to the agricultural cycle in this case embody independence, the state a hindrance to pre-modern self-sufficiency. Vasan Sitthiket’s denunciation of Thailand’s agricultural policy that condemns the country’s farmers to a vicious circle of debt and poverty recurs frequently in his oeuvre and can be interpreted as a challenge to nation as appropriated by the powers. 

History and its authorship remain central zones of contestation in contemporary Southeast Asian art: Manit Sriwanichpoom’s Horror in Pink targets the deliberate amnesia of history that allows for the repeating of atrocities while contrasting this forgetfulness with a Thai consumerism that acts as a substitute for memory; the masterly elucidation of Sutee Kunavichayanont’s History Class of the disputed ownership of history and the obligation for each to assume personal responsibility; Agus Suwage’s previously discussed Give me more questions, linking education and history; Lee Wen’s World Class City, critiquing propaganda masquerading as national aspiration; fellow Singaporean Junaidi Wa’ee’s ironic depiction of social conformity in Singapore justified by the supposed need for national unity; Heri Dono’s Flying Angels looking for freedom through a timeless myth and fantasy that is opposed to Indonesia’s authoritarian present; Michael Shaowanasai’s drag queen monk interrogating the role of Buddhism as one of the nation’s three immutable pillars; Sutee Kunavichayont’s Eternal Banality’s query of elitist hierarchies perpetuated by cultural codes entrenched as "national," and even Natee Utarit’s recent production—the artist is not generally inclined to socio-political commentary—like that of his peers, dissecting the incestuous play of history and nation.15 

The relationship between community and voice in recent regional practice

In 1970s Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, in the face of encroaching modernity, "the community" was consciously evoked as a counter to urban alienation and big-city depravity. It was also imagined as a foil for the passive, formalist, and sometimes individualistic character of painting, a means of recalling tradition, embodied by "village culture," "craft," "premodern histories," etc…

The community has continued to be visible in all Southeast Asian art forms of the last two decades. It figures even in painting, such as that of Vasan Sitthiket. But "community" is now more than synonymous with the village.

By the 1990s, the idea of community had not only permeated contemporary art far more widely, but was no longer an emblem of tradition or a reaction to painting. It had become a much broader and far-ranging construct to do with art’s function, the artist’s relationship vis-à-vis power, and his vocation to nurture change through audience intervention. Art’s openness on, and genesis from, community is a trait asserting its close connection to life. 
 
Whether random onlookers participating in a project—Arahamaiani’s flag-bearers, Mella Jaarsma’s fried-frog tasters, Matthew Ngui’s popiah eaters, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s rural art-amateurs assembled around a Western masterpiece set up on an easel in a clearing near Chiangmai; or figuring allusively as its subject such as in Philippines’ Jose Tence Ruiz’s Paraisado Sorbetero (Orange), which suggests street peddlers weighed down by the church—the community is understood broadly as a dynamic force allied with the art and its creator, a variable, always renewing a work, a small piece of humanity representing society’s place within the piece.

Nindityo Adipurnomo’s ongoing konde series includes a giant 3D-woven rattan Javanese wig. In this connection, rattan is favoured by the artist for its reference to indigenous craft culture, in turn alluding to the involvement of specialist weavers manufacturing the piece. Adipurnomo explains that working with local craftspeople is integral to his works’ conceptualisation and process of creation, a second, non-material prompt to the communitarian structure at the heart of Javanese culture. Thus the piece, as well as through its iconography, via its material and method of production, illuminates the competing tensions shaping contemporary Javanese society.

Medium and material as conceptual cues

If Sutee Kunavichayanont’s History Class enlists the community directly in its reclamation of history, the installation’s material and medium also operate as prompts to meaning. Medium and material harbor significance beyond surface in Southeast Asian practices post-1990. Hand-carved, History Class interactively targets all audiences, conveying its message about the ownership of history through the familiar school desk, but also through popularly-accessible wood carving. The artist is keen on carving because it helps convey his message broadly, not because it is not painting.

First-generation contemporary practitioners from Hanoi experimented with ceramics in the 1990s, choosing fired clay to support their narratives as they did paper. Amongst others, Nguyen Minh Thanh, Truong Tan, and Nguyen Van Cuong showed their vessels at Salon Natasha in 1996.16

Later, Nguyen Van Cuong made his Porcelain Diary from 1999 to 2001, regularly transferring his impressions of evolving life in the Vietnamese capital, including its disturbing contradictions and violence, to ceramic vessels. He painted his ironic, boldly critical and sexually-charged iconography, a tightly composed mosaic of contemporary Vietnam seen from the most cynical perspective—women monks; propaganda-screeching loudspeakers; bonded and gagged women; conical-hat wearing peasants; tractors; sadistic injection-yielding doctors; shark-faced business men; sodomy victims, and much more—onto basic pre-potted porcelain vases awaiting him in Bat Trang, the centuries-old imperial kiln village outside Hanoi.

The artist was attracted to ceramics for various reasons. As well as heralding a dual metaphoric and physical return to the village after a decade of rapid urbanisation, the interest was an instinctive one, the pots as inviting to inscribe, diary-form, as his more habitual do paper. Nguyen was not consciously elevating a craft medium to fine art and indeed is skeptical of such nuances.17 He embraced the vases for their cylindrical shape, perfectly suited to his never-ending diary entries, as well as for enabling the return to the village that painting them entailed. Their material, hinting at the intimacy of elite, literati interiors, also provided the perfect foil for his confrontational critique of state and system.

Since then, others in Vietnam have shown a predilection for ceramics, most notably Bui Cong Khanh whose 2009 painted porcelain stood out at the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art for its marriage of social narrative and traditional medium.

Artists’ reasons for selecting this ancient medium vary. From a reception point of view, the result is an expression that recalls the supreme position of ceramic art in Asian art history, dominated for millennia by functional, unsigned, hand-made objects. For the viewer, such media may still have the effect of challenging art-school conservatism and its bias toward painting.18 On the artist’s side however, exploitation of Western-defined craft as a means of rejecting the high/low art divide introduced by European educators setting up early regional fine art curricula, seems less deliberate than twenty-five years ago. In the last decade, medium appears more as a means of garnering an extra layer of significance, contributing to a now-ongoing questioning and challenging, than as a way of explicitly countering twentieth-century foreign-sourced cultural hegemony.19 

If one believes the old craft versus high-art chestnut dead, then one is free to move on to other communicative layers translated by a porcelain vase covered with signs: the intimate and domestic connotations of the vase heighten the urgency of socially and politically provocative information. Anything can be a carrier of message, but exploiting the elegant porcelain vase associated with bourgeois comfort and archaic tradition, never leaving Asia, offers the complex semantic layering of the contemporary while serving to emphasise the ugliest of social realities. 

Materials and modes of manufacture play a significant role in transmitting meaning in the contemporary art of the region. Sutee Kunavichayanont’s inflatable rubber installation Breath Donation series prompts reflection about latex in the economic and political history of Southeast Asia; the Aquilizan duo’s slipper and used clothing compositions reference migration and exclusion; Nindityo Adipurnomo’s konde’s artisan-authorship alludes to the slippage between anonymous and signed art; Dadang Christanto’s choice of fragile terra cotta for his 1995 Kekerasan I, conveys the vulnerability of the individual and independent voice in mid 1990s Indonesia. Arahmaiani’s Bangkok installation Stitching the Wound, and her subsequent I Love You, in oversize, softly inviting, coloured cushion form, make the most of material to strengthen meaning.20

Javanese social art collective Taring Padi and its founder Mohammad "Ucup" Yusuf, resort to print-making for critiquing urban and rural reality. The print is one of the oldest means of pictorial communication in Asia, meshing art and social message. Associated with village life, the print has always operated as a diffuser of information for populations steeped in oral culture. Due to its functional quality, anonymity, communitarian manufacture, and association with craft rather than Western canon high art, the indigenous print, especially woodblock, has been deprived of the status of art.21 But true to the spirit of Taring Padi’s community-oriented message, the print has been chosen amongst other media not for its assertion of premodern communication methods, or for its reactionary stance against painting, but for its still-current ability to speak clearly to a broad audience.

Other practitioners, such as Indonesian street art collective Apotik Komik, and more particularly Heri Dono and some years later Eko Nugroho, with their wayang kulit pieces, and Dani Iswardana with his wayang beber, beyond craft media, appropriate indigenous expressions whole, their works’ performative aspect not designed to hark back to wayang of old, but instead to reference the living, interventionist, popular aspect of the form and its ability to draw audiences. Unlike earlier production, which deliberately featured media associated with indigenous craft as a means of referencing local identity or the negation of painting, contemporary artists handle materials and modes without affectation, recognisable, popular modes of expression tools amongst others in their repertoire.

Southeast Asian art of the turn of the twenty-first century does not set out to court conflict. But the fast-paced developments that dramatically redraw regional societies during this period necessarily provoke response in those watching and thinking, visual artists amongst others. Not only do the artists of Southeast Asia make work that mirrors and comments change, they actively put their practice at the service of change, their art an important and irreplaceable means of social and political voice for all. 

Iola Lenzi is a Singapore-based researcher and critic specialising in Southeast Asian contemporary art. She curated the recent Singapore Art Museum show Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991–2011, is a founding member of AICA Singapore, and the author of two books.

Notes

1. Hans-Dieter Bechstedt ,‘Identity and Authority in Thailand’, in Craig Reynolds (ed.), National Identity and its Defenders- Thailand Today, Silkworm Books, Chiangmai, 2002, pp. 247-248 for a discussion of Thai social hierarchies.

2. Ibid Bechstedt, pp. 240-241 for a discussion of the assimilation of community/collective and individual voice in the Thai context.

3. Thais and particularly Indonesians had already embarked on this route, in the mid 1970s, further to repressive events in Thailand; in Indonesia, in the 1970s and indeed before, see Jim Supangkat, ‘Yogyakarta’s Place in Indonesian Contemporary Art’, in Outlet-Yogyakarta within the Contemporary Indonesian Art Scene, Cemeti Art Foundation, Yogyakarta, 2001, pp. 8-11.  

4. Apinan Poshyananda, ‘Roaring Tigers, Desperate Dragons in Transition’, in Apinan Poshyananda (ed.), Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1996, p. 47 for an expose of these issues in the context of late 20th century Asia. 

5. Shown at Singapore’s Art-2 Gallery 1997; Iola Lenzi, ‘Ahmad and his shadow’, ArtAsiaPacific no. 19, 1998, p. 90, for a discussion of the series

6. Poshyananda, Apinan, Modern Art in Thailand, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, pp. 157-172 for a discussion of socially engaged art in 1970s Thailand. See also Jim Sugpangkat in ‘Art and Politics in Indonesia’, Caroline Turner (ed.), Art and Social Change- Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific, Pandanus, ANU, Canberra, 2005, for a discussion of social art in Indonesia in recent years.

7. Tatehata Akira, ‘Art As Criticism’, in Asian Modernism, Diverse Developments in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, 1995, p. 201 for comments on early Indonesian contemporary art and its socially-critical content.

8. It is not so far-fetched to suggest that in the mid to late 1990s, Indonesian artists and collectives such as Heri Dono, Dadang Christanto, Agung Kurniawan, FX Harsono, Apotik Komik, and Taring Padi, amongst others, may well have contributed, through their art, to accelerating political change in their part of Java. 

9. Natalia Kraevskaia, ‘A Prayer-The Art of Nguyen Minh Thanh’, in 12 Contemporary Artists of Vietnam, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2010, pp. 92-96 for a discussion of Nguyen’s investigation of self in his work.

10. The exhibition ‘Neo-Nationalism’, curated by Manit Sriwanichpoom, was put up at The Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bankgok, in 2005. It offered a critical examination of official nationalisms and nation-building in the Thai context.

11. Two in particular, ‘History & Memory’, the Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, August-September 2001, and ‘Flashback ‘76’, Pridi Banomyong Institute, Bangkok, August 2008.

12. Sutee Kunavichayanont has produced several engraved desk installations recounting Thai history from different perspectives. See iola Lenzi, 'Formal cues and historical clues in the art of Sutee Kunavichayanont' (originally from Inflated Nostalgia, Atelier Frank & Lee, Singapore, 2001), Next Move exhibition catalogue, Earl Lu Gallery, Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, 2003, pp. 120-129 for a discussion of these installations. 

13. It is a particularity of Malaysia that all ethnic Malays are deemed to be Muslim by the constitution whatever their religious affiliation. Positive discrimination in favour of the ethnic Malays (Bumiputra) in the civil service and state education system has been in place since the early 1970s.

14. Performed in 2006, the Cambodian project pre-dates Tran Luong’s Tiananmen Square Toothbrush performance, Beijing, 2007. For a discussion of this piece, see iola Lenzi ‘Heroes and promise: intersecting currents in new art from Vietnam’, in Intersection Vietnam: new works from North and South, exhibition catalogue, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Singapore & Kuala Lumpur, 2009, pp. 1-2.

15. Utarit, not known for political art, painted the series ‘The Amusement of Dreams, Hope and Perfection’, shown the Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 2007, in the wake of the Thai army coup that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. See iola Lenzi, ‘Beyond the Object: how Natee Utarit Paints the nation’, Natee Utarit: After Painting, exhibition catalogue, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2010, pp. 26-31 for a discussion of the series.

16. This exhibition, called ‘Ceramique d’art’ took place at Hanoi’s Salon Natasha in February 1996 and included Bui Huu Hung, Le Hong Thai, Nguyen Minh Thanh, Truong Tan, Nguyen Van Cuong, Tran Thieu Quang, Do Minh Tam, Mai Chi Thanh, Eric Leroux and Maritta Nurmi. The pieces were fired at Bat Trang, the ceramics village outside Hanoi.

17. Interviews with the artist in Hanoi November-December 2010.

18. Supangkat, Jim ‘Context’, Heri Dono Dancing Demons and Drunken Deities, The Japan Foundation Asia Center, Tokyo, 2000, p.100 for a discussion of Heri Dono’s understanding of artistic innovations involving re-cycled materials being likened to ‘craft’ as (Western) cultural hegemony and therefore, conversely, the use of these materials representing a counter to cultural hegemony.

19. Iola Lenzi, ‘Urban Subversion: Empowerment, defiance and sexuality in the art of Vu Dan Tan’, 12 Contemporary Artists of Vietnam, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2010, pp. 16-20 for a discussion of the various meanings attached to Vu Dan Tan’s use of detritus and craft material in his work.

20. These two exhibitions were held respectively at The Art Center at the Jim Thompson House, Bangkok, 2006 and The Esplanade, Singapore, 2009. See also iola Lenzi, ‘Context, content and meaning: threads of perception beyond the veil’, Arahmaiani in Bangkok Stitching the Wound, exhibition catalogue, Lenzi (ed.), The Art Center at the Jim Thompson House, Bangkok, 2006. 

21. Partially responsible for this are a majority of regional art schools, where curricula have until quite recently been predicated on anachronistic Western high-low art divides, EuroAmerican discourse the arbiter by default of such definitions.


REFERENCES
Poshyananda, Apinan (ed.), Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1996.
Poshyananda, Apinan, Modern Art in Thailand, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992.
Reid, Anthony, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680, vol. I, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 1988.
Anderson, Benedict, The Spectre of Comparisons- Nationalism, Southeast Asian and the World, Verso, London, 2002. 
Lieberman, Victor, Strange Parallels Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003.
Clark, John, Modern Asian Art, Craftsman House, G+B Arts International, Sydney, 1998. 
Summers, David, Real Spaces, Phaidon Press, New York, 2003.
Turner, Caroline (ed.), Art and Social Change- Contemporary Art in Asian the Pacific, Pandanus, ANU, Canberra, 2005.
Reynolds, Craig, Seditious Histories-Contesting Thai and Southeast Asian Pasts, University of Washington Press, Singapore, 2006.
Reynolds, Craig (ed.), National Identity and its Defenders-Thailand Today, Silkworm Books, Chiangmai, 2002.
Harrison, Rachel, Jackson, Peter (eds.), The Ambiguous Allure of the West, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2010.

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Author

Iola LENZI

Topic
Essays
Date
Mon, 1 Aug 2011

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