Shisha and the First Asia Triennial Manchester

Shisha is an international agency for contemporary South Asian crafts and visual arts based in Manchester, and was established in 2001 as an independent organisation and a registered charity. The word 'shisha' comes from Urdu and Hindi and is loosely translated as meaning mirror or reflection. Shisha emerged during a timely period, as it addressed many issues raised in the No Difference! No Future! report commissioned by North West Arts Board (NWAB) in 1998. This report advocated the potential benefits of 'diversifying agencies': small, expert organisations that could help 'mainstream' venues diversify their programs. This vision was shared by NWAB (now known as Arts Council England North West) who fully championed this idea, incubating Shisha in its nascent stages. Clearly, Shisha broke new ground, creating a paradigmatic shift as well as forming new, positive role models within South Asian communities in the UK.

Historically, very few Black-led organisations had been given opportunities to run as independent businesses with adequate resources to ensure long-term sustainability. Shisha is a new, visionary organisation with a strong team to deliver its mission. Shisha initiates partnerships to support artists', makers' and curators’ development, builds audiences, and enables other key organisations to promote and extend this work through a wide range of arts activity.

From its inception to the present time, Shisha has established a unique reputation. It has pioneered a number of ambitious projects of local, national and international strategic importance. These projects have been devised through research and development, through international curatorial study visits to South Asia, and by working closely with our partner venues and nurturing networks within the museums and galleries sector.

This work has been acknowledged in various ways, including being nominated as finalists for Art04 and, recently, Art07, the BBC/Arts Council England North West (ACENW) arts awards. The Art04 nomination was for part of Shisha’s ArtSouthAsia program, which brought new art from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to England for the first time. ArtSouthAsia presented a series of four seminal exhibitions, plus residencies, three publications and a conference exploring international art practice and the crossing of art/craft boundaries. The exhibition set unprecedented records, featuring fifty-six artists in four separate venues across the North West as part of the Commonwealth Games cultural program in 2002.

Shisha aims to be at the vanguard of creative practice; programming landmark projects that push boundaries, open up critical dialogue, and challenge perceptions in current artistic, cultural and socio-political discourses. Shisha has fostered a position as an international agency that promotes inter-cultural discourse within a local and global context. Given the challenging events of recent history, Shisha’s role is even more pertinent in reinforcing the creative processes within South Asian artistic communities as well as the wider international cultural landscape.

As a diversifying agency, Shisha has a responsibility to lobby and influence arts policy and reflect government policy on social and educational issues. Shisha has worked on numerous projects with strong artistic and educational underpinning, working closely with local authority museums and galleries, artists, makers and educators. Reflecting change and diversifying art collections in UK museums is another important issue for Shisha.

Shisha is launching the UK's first Asian Art Triennial in Manchester (ATM08) in April 2008 in partnership with Castlefield Gallery, Cornerhouse, Chinese Arts Centre, International 3, Manchester Art Gallery, Urbis and Manchester Metropolitan University (through MIRIAD and the Faculty of Art and Design). ATM08 is a city-centre based program featuring venue-based exhibitions, site-specific new commissions, innovative residencies and surprising publicly sited work by artists from China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore and Taiwan. The inaugural ATM program will echo Manchester’s strong political and social history, reflect new artistic practice and seek resonances between Manchester and Asia by exploring the notion of ‘protest’ – in its widest sense.

The Asia Triennial Manchester will show fresh and innovative work that represents the best of contemporary visual art and craft practice from Asia and will be a festival of visual culture that not only celebrates the city’s diverse communities but also explores cultural, artistic and political debates of the 21st century. The program will also create new and dynamic cultural collaborations between the UK and a variety of countries in Asia, develop new audiences for work by Asian artists, and generate enthusiasm for contemporary visual art and crafts from within Asian communities.

The ATM08 partners' statement reads:

"For ATM08 our aim is to present innovative, dynamic, art work — challenge hearts and minds — and support new artists and new techniques by encouraging the delivery of remarkable pieces of new work. Central to ATM08 is our work within the diverse local communities of Manchester but also our ambitions to exchange ideas, artists and objectives across Asia and the middle and Far East. Collectively we are representing art forms and artists who would otherwise be unknown to a European audience and we are able to inspire UK communities with the rich culture that is currently inaccessible to them. International exchange of ideas, techniques and ideologies are critical in the current political climate and ATM08 is the first major arts project in the North West that aims to tackle all of these issues via culture and art."

The ATM also aims to create a long-term program of international exhibitions and residencies by contemporary Asian artists to build on the legacy of the Shisha-led ArtSouthAsia program of 2002 and to secure a vital place for the UK in the growing international Asian Art scene.

This series of collaborations between Shisha, six of Manchester's high-profile and cutting-edge galleries, and MIRIAD at MMU (who are leading the project research) for ATM08 is an innovative way of developing, delivering and promoting culturally diverse arts. Shisha and the partner venues are also pioneering a new way of delivering international art festivals, as each of the venues is developing and curating their own ATM08 exhibition, residency or project. These dynamic collaborations between the venues and their chosen artists will produce a range of critical and creative responses and commissions. 

As part of the new Manchester International Festival, Shisha launched its Rusholme Project on 29 June 2007, featuring site-specific public artworks by acclaimed international artists Subodh Gupta from India and Rashid Rana from Pakistan. Gupta’s awe-inspiring and monumental 27 Light Years is outside Whitworth Art Gallery until 9 September, and Rana's stunning work covers 28 windows of Rusholme's Jobcentre Plus building in the heart of this unique neighbourhood until 30 September.

An ambitious, robust and dynamic education and outreach program for ATM08 is currently being developed by the project partners, led by Cornerhouse, and will include innovative ways of involving, including and documenting a wide range of audiences. Their responses and dialogues and will enable and encourage Asian communities, young refugees and the wider public to take an active role in international creative debates. A publication is also being planned to enhance and document the project and serve as part of the ATM08 legacy.

The ATM08 program includes Castlefield Gallery working with Channel A from Taiwan and p-10 from Singapore who will reside in Manchester in the lead up to the ATM08. They will use the gallery as a ‘platform’ and as a point of reference for a wider/further reaching activity.

The Chinese Arts Centre has initiated both a residency and exhibition program. The artist’s residency will be with Luke Ching, a Hong Kong artist, who will spend March to May 2008 in Manchester reacting to the city and its communities. For the exhibition, Chinese Arts Centre is working with two Mainland Chinese artists, Chen Shaoxiong and Qiu Anxiong. They are working with Chinese ink painting in an experimental way. Blending real portraits from daily life and Chinese legend and history, they will create new ink painting and animations, to illustrate a sense of the insecurity and instability of their surroundings.

Cornerhouse — Galleries 1, 2, & 3 is staging What do you want?, an exhibition curated by Cornerhouse Visual Arts Director Kathy Rae Huffman, of artists living and working in India. They are members of an emerging generation of female artists who investigate contemporary political issues and controversial social situations that challenge cultural opinion. Using photography, performance, objects, video and new media, each artist will present her ideas in installation format, as film/video presentation, or as a live event or intervention in a public setting. The artists share a vision to engage the public in real scenarios that will make a difference.

The International 3's ATM1 project will feature Chinese artist Han Bing whose work uses photography, video and multimedia performance installation to invert everyday practice, making us re-think the order of things and the human condition. Han Bing's art manifests a kind of amor mundi — love of the world — investing ordinary objects from everyday life with a subtle sense of the sacred. For ATM1 Bing is planning to involve 100 local people in a surprising outdoor performance.

Manchester Art Gallery will present contemporary work by two Korean artists:
Gwon Osang and Choe U-ram. Gwon Osang will visit Manchester in autumn 2007 to research and develop ideas for new work inspired by Manchester people and places. The artist uses photography to build up the exterior surface of each beautifully crafted human figure so these extraordinary life-size human forms have both photo-realist and surreal qualities. Osang's figures will be popping up in unexpected places around the gallery.

Choe U-ram's stunning robotic sculptures will be displayed in the atrium from 5 April 2008, and from 21 June the artist will present his first UK solo exhibition at the gallery. He uses cut and polished metals, machinery and electronics to create kinetic sculptures inspired by sea creatures and plant life. Each creature has a scientific name and a fictional narrative describing its habitat and behaviour.

Over the years, Shisha has pioneered a number of strategic projects bringing new and dynamic visual cultures from South Asia and beyond to the UK. For the ATM08 program Shisha aims to continue developing this unique work, placing newly commissioned work and forging a dialogue not only with the selected artist, but also with the international arts community. ATM08 will bring fresh art to the city of Manchester and challenge stereotypical viewpoints of contemporary Asian artistic practice.


Editorial disclaimer - The opinions and views expressed in the Perspectives column do not necessarily reflect those of the Asia Art Archive, staff, sponsors and partners.




Alnoor MITHA

Sat, 1 Sep 2007

Relevant content

AAA Project Space, Archiving Materials
Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Asia Art Archive publishes new essays, interviews, and curated journeys through the research collections

In light of the current COVID-19 situation, AAA Library will remain temporarily closed till 5 February.