Independent Thinking

2007 is a benchmark year for recalling events that transformed the Asian landscape forever, marking the 60th anniversary of the Partition of British India into the independent states of India and Pakistan, the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence from Britain and the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. 2007 also marks 60 years since the UN General Assembly approved the United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine, in an attempt to find an expedient resolution to Britain’s desire to withdraw from the Mandate of Palestine. However, any reflection on colonialism and its legacy cannot reduce the matter to simple binary relationships or overlook the difficulty in defining the very concepts of sovereignty and self-determination when they are understood in terms of an “other.” Nor can it ignore the human dimension of great historical change.

Artists have played an important role in interpreting, preserving and sustaining the individual perspectives that are often swept aside in nation building projects. So as governments celebrate their achievements, we have conducted an informal survey of the region’s creative landscape by interviewing some of the most dynamic artists working today, who each take innovative approaches to their countries’ complex modern stories.

Samir Patel’s interview with Zarina, originally from Aligarh in northern India, reveals that the globe-trotting printmaker’s repeated return to the theme of “home” in her work effects an autobiography combining personal and political spheres. Conversing with ArtAsiaPacific Almanac co-editor Murtaza Vali, Emily Jacir, who is based in Ramallah and New York, poetically underscores the absence of Palestinian history and imagines something different altogether: referring to the classic story-within-story A Thousand and One Nights, she describes her work Material for a film (2005– ) as “a refusal of this compulsion to narrate.” Xu Zhen, who spoke with Shanghai desk editor Rebecca Catching, and Gimhongsok, who spoke with Seoul desk editor Shinyoung Chung, both challenge absolute truth by using dark humor to create conceptual hoaxes that undermine conventional relationships between belief and perception, consensus authority and self assertion. And with deputy editor Andrew Maerkle, Baroda-based artist Nataraj Sharma relates that he made his mixed media sculpture Freedom Bus after discovering how his daughter’s grade school history book drastically simplified the events and protagonists of the Indian Independence Movement.

Continuing the theme, State of the Art, written by London-based curator Hammad Nasar, looks at Indian and Pakistani artists who challenge the literal and metaphorical Lines of Control between the two neighboring countries. For The Point, Hong Kong-based artist and scholar Eric Wear reviews how local artists have evolved in the decade since return to Chinese rule. We also excerpt a text on Macau that late contributing editor Jonathan Napack (1967–2007) drafted prior to Portugal’s return of the territory to Chinese administration in 1999. The column is the first in a series of unpublished material from his estate. Projects in the Making examines emerging Iran-born artist Kamrooz Aram’s dense, multi-referential paintings that draw from video games, Persian ornamentation and the Black Power Movement, and Where I Work, with text and photograph by artist Jitish Kallat, visits painter Sudhir Patwardhan, a respected dean of Indian contemporary art, at his studio in Thane outside Mumbai.

In this sweltering season of muscle-flexing exhibitions and celebrations taking place around the world, it is also worth remembering that it has been 100 years since Mahatma Gandhi conceived his Satyagraha, or the devotion to truth that paved the way for his visionary non-violent resistance movement. So during moments of cool respite this summer, we hope readers will enjoy this special issue of dialogues sharing the artist’s perspective—as opposed to the critic’s or curator’s—and contemplate Gandhi’s insight: “For what appears to be truth to one may appear to be error to the other.”