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MAI-THU PERRETNews From Nowhere II, 2019, Haute lisse hand woven wool tapestry, 210 × 150 cm. Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong / London / New York.

Dreams of Progress

Also available in:  Chinese

Sometimes it is necessary to leave the crowds behind in order to discover the world again. Writers, monks, artists, naturalists, and astronomers are all known to check out for extended periods of time to gain a renewed perspective on life. In this era of extended isolation and social distancing, being away from the maddening throngs of society has been necessary, even mandatory. And with it, as time slowed down and activities came to a halt, there was a chance for reflection on the future direction of society. 

For the last two decades, in her ongoing project, The Crystal Frontier (1999– ), Mai-Thu Perret has been conjuring a fictional commune of women who are in pursuit of an alternative realm, a place where alienation, the patriarchy, and capitalism do not exist. She renders mixed-media figurative sculptures, based on real-life individuals who have explored these same ideals, including the fighters of the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units, as seen on our cover. Her textiles, paintings, and installations reflect her imaginations of what The Crystal Frontier women would make and the kinds of art that would appeal to them. Yet the artist is careful not to convince us that this paradise could actually exist. Her works have increasingly demystified utopian experiments and veered into critiques of contemporary life. A way of understanding her practice, then, as ArtAsiaPacific’s managing editor Chloe Chu argues, is as a call to scrutinize the real conditions that are stymieing the manifestation of a better society. 

In our second Feature, we pay tribute to the printmaker Zarina Hashmi, who passed away in April. Born in 1937, Zarina witnessed a tumultuous period in South Asian history. When she was ten, British India was divided into two separate states, India and Pakistan, and Zarina and her family were temporarily forced to leave their home to avoid persecution as a Muslim family. This experience of being unmoored fundamentally shaped her life and artistic practice. Her austere, minimal, black-and-white prints and sculptures speak of places lost and recollected, including her childhood home and the traumas of Partition, and reflect her search for belonging in foreign countries and, ultimately, the United States. Artmaking was Zarina’s way of confronting these deep wounds. As her friend and longtime collaborator Sarah Burney writes in a poem dedicated to Zarina, “she did not know the meaning of ‘afraid.’”

In the Up Close section, AAP associate editor Ophelia Lai dissects a film of Farid Rasulov, Dream of Dreams (2020), in which the artist examines the “absurd profligacy of Qurban Bayram,” the end of Eid religious festival when millions of animals are sacrificed in Azerbaijan and across the Muslim world. Andrew Luk’s installation Haunted, Salvaged (2020), at Hong Kong’s de Sarthe Gallery, evokes a devastated landscape—one that recalls “so many corners of the earth today,” in AAP deputy editor and deputy publisher HG Masters’ words. Byron Kim’s bruise paintings, on the other hand, bring to mind both human and celestial bodies, revealing that “each of us possesses a vast universe within,” according to AAP assistant editor Pamela Wong.  

In Essays, artist JJ Chan reflects on their decision to withdraw from an exhibition at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art due to the institution’s failure to address the underrepresentation of Chinese people on its staff, and, by extension, its role in perpetuating Eurocentric perspectives. They ask difficult questions relevant to artists working in postcolonial societies around the world today: “How can I liberate my thinking and making beyond a historically Eurocentric frame of reference? How do I make work beyond the whiteness of my tools?”

For Profiles, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art’s assistant curator Sophie Rose spoke to Angela Tiatia about her performances and videos, which tackle the “disparity of power,” particularly in relation to Pacific communities within the Australasia context. AAP news and web editor Lauren Long met with Arthur de Villepin at his newly opened gallery on Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road to discuss the way art has been an important part of his identity. From Manila, John Alexis Balaguer spoke to Joven Cuanang, a neurosurgeon and the founder of the unique Pinto Art Museum, about art as a healing practice. 

In One on One, prompted by her time in Covid-19 quarantine with her mother, multidiscipinary artist Sung Tieu examines the practice of artist and feminist writer Mary Kelly, who complicated notions of domestic labor. From Amsterdam, Mirthe Berentsen files a Dispatch, delineating the postcolonial discussions that are just beginning to take root in the city’s cultural institutions. In the Point, artist Zheng Bo advocates for the rethinking of art as a multispecies activity, as he aims to address the anthropocentrism undergirding the climate crisis. In Fine Print, legal expert Ryan Su offers museums that are grappling with the pandemic-exacerbated financial crunch legal advice on deaccessioning works. 

Finally, for Where I Work, Pamela Wong visited the working farm—and studio—of Hong Kong video artist Lo Lai Lai Natalie. Lo describes her struggle to find focus in today’s era of distractions and dreams. While being both a farmer and an artist is not easy, together, these activities, taking place at a distance from the city, have allowed her to pay close attention to the ever-shifting world around her.

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