Asia Art Archive is an independent art archive, working to identify, safeguard, and make visible the work of artists in Asia within an international context. Our collection covers all artistic activity in the region, to include that which deals with political content and/or takes place in stringent political environments. In light of a series of incidents this week, including the detention of artist and activist Ai Weiwei; the sacking of Jack Persekian as the Director of the Sharjah Biennial for the content of one work in the exhibition; and the censorship of AAA’s Mobile Library project, ‘Open Edit’ at Sàn Art independent art space in Ho Chi Minh City, the AAA team probed the collection to consider past cases of censorship in a region where freedom of artistic expression is in many cases impossible. Their findings follow.
Following the Sichuan earthquake on 12 May 2008, Ai Weiwei and others began compiling a database of child victims as part of an investigation into whether poor construction of schools had caused them to collapse. Volunteers relaying information from the earthquake zone covered a total of 154 schools in numerous towns and counties. By September 2009, the names, ages, school names, and other details of 4,851 dead students had been verified; a list of the names is featured in a video work. Ai was beaten by the police for trying to testify for Tan Zuoren, a fellow investigator into the shoddy construction and student casualties in the earthquake. Ai was then diagnosed to be suffering internal bleeding in a hospital in Munich, Germany. The cerebral hemorrhage is believed to be linked to the police attack.
Chaw Ei Thein and Htein Lin did a performance in one of the busiest street markets in Yangon to comment on inflated prices under the current Burmese government and they were arrested. Their performances criticising a government where civil rights and freedom of speech is limited, led to Thein’s exile from her country. Since filing for political asylum, Thein has been creating art in the US, where she now lives. Interview with Chaw Ei Thein: http://www.aaa.org.hk/newsletter_detail.aspx?newsletter_id=831&newslettertype=archive
Htein Lin is now a resident of London, having been accused of planning opposition activities and jailed as a political prisoner.
In her 2006 performance, ‘Breaking Words’ at ‘Satu Kali International Performance Art Symposium’ in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesian artist Arahmaiani invited her audience to write words on plates that had either positive or negative connotations. She wrote ‘Allah’ on a plate and then smashed all the plates against the wall. One of the audience members reported her action to the police, which resulted in a police raid and the subsequent suspension of the symposium.
Organised by Saigon Open City in 2006, 'Liberation' was intended to be the first chapter of the Open City exhibition series. It focused on ‘social reality portrayed through the daily life of Vietnamese people during the Liberation period, as well as the contextual influences it had on the greater scheme of life on a global scale’. Despite the Vietnamese government’s approval of the project, the exhibition-operating license from the Ministry of Culture was never received, forcing chronic delays for the event. Some works were barred to the public by heavy gates and at least one of the works was removed by authorities. Subsequent chapters of the project were never realised.
'The One Year Drawing Project' charts a 29-month period of drawing exchange between four of Sri Lanka's most important contemporary artists. A timeline of events, provided in a supplementary booklet, recalls the period of violent conflict in Sri Lanka that served as a backdrop against which the project unfolded.
The Project was not censored in Sri Lanka, but the work speaks to a region where people are often punished for speaking against the state, and where artists must create metaphors to express themselves.
The CP Biennale II 2005 aimed to provide a clearer look at the social function of art, particularly in Indonesia. The theme Urban/Culture set forth a variety of issues: development and progress, social problems, economics and politics, as well as the matter of history. A seminar with the theme ‘Urban Reflection’ accompanied the Biennale and dealt specifically with the various problems facing urban communities.
The CP Biennale II 2005 included 70 participants, 18 of whom were from abroad. Unfortunately, the Biennale was forcibly closed down due to nudity in several of the works presented. One of those works is Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar’s Pinkswing Park.
Huang Yongping's work Bat Project 2 was planned as a massive outdoor installation at the opening of the First Guangzhou Triennial at the Guangdong Museum of Art. The work was a full-scale model of the cockpit section and left wing of an American EP-3 spy plane, filled with taxodermically preserved bats. The plane modelled the one that collided with a Chinese fighter jet in March 2001, killing the Chinese pilot. Two days before the opening, Chinese foreign ministry officials removed the partially completed work. The work was later recreated as part of Huang's ‘House of Oracles’ retrospective at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
'Fuck Off' ran alongside the Third Shanghai Biennale in 2000, the first international biennale in the city. The exhibition, curated by Feng Boyi and Ai Weiwei, was held in an Eastlink Gallery warehouse. As its Chinese title suggests, many participating artists took an ‘uncooperative approach’ to controversial issues, including Ai Weiwei, whose photographs show him gesturing with his middle finger in turn to the White House, the Forbidden City, and the viewer; and Zhu Yu, whose photographs document the cooking and eating of an alleged human fetus. The exhibition was closed by the Shanghai police before its closing date.
Open Circle was a collaborative project initiated in 1998, dedicated to public art projects promoting secular values, which is featured in this book. Open Circle addressed the violent outbursts of religious fundamentalism growing in India since the 1990s as well as issues like pollution, the privatisation of water, deforestation, radiation pollution caused by atomic power plants, destruction of coastal belts by five-star tourism, effects of big dams, disastrous fishing policies of technological modernisation, and economic liberalisation. The project was a collaboration between artists Shilpa Gupta, Tushar Joag, Sharmila Samant, Tejal Shah, and several others. The group dissolved some years ago.
- Collection Spotlight
- Fri, 1 Apr 2011