FX HARSONO, Destruction, 1997, performance in Southern Town Square, Yogyakarta, for the group show “Slot In The Box” by Cemeti Art House, Yogyakarta, 1997. Courtesy the artist.  

Tilting Backward

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Innovation versus tradition, fine arts versus crafts, global versus local . . . What do these notions mean today? Since 1993, ArtAsiaPacific has introduced artists, such as those from the Pacific Islands, who have forged new paths in craft-making, producing works that many in the established art world perceive as old fashioned, but which on their own turf are considered contemporary. Throughout the 1990s in particular, when identity politics were a hotly debated topic, Asia-Pacific artists in the United States and many postcolonial Asian countries made the choice to create art in a vernacular language that wasn’t distinctly “Western.” After 20 years, many of these artists have gained significant recognition, while others have experienced a regressive backlash against their contributions. In our September/October edition we look at artists and genres that continue to push forward these important conversations.

Our cover feature delves into the work of FX Harsono, an artist who has played a seminal role in the history of contemporary art in Indonesia. AAP editor at large HG Masters traveled to Jakarta and Hong Kong, where he talked to Harsono about his four-decade-long career addressing the tribulations of Indonesia’s transition from a Dutch colony to an independent yet brutal state after the Second World War. In the 1970s and ’80s, Harsono and his peers invented their own form of postmodern art. More recently, Harsono has explored the violent and largely omitted history of his home country’s genocidal treatment of its Indonesian-Chinese community.

From New York, president emerita of Asia Society and special advisor for global affairs at Columbia University Vishakha N. Desai sits down with Shahzia Sikander to discuss the transnational nature of the Pakistani multimedia artist’s work. In the early 1990s, Sikander helped revitalize Indo-Persian miniature painting, which had flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries on the Subcontinent. Despite this illustrious history, students in Pakistan’s art schools during the 1980s regarded the genre as antiquated and shied away from exploring it. Today, in large part due to Sikander’s international success, contemporary miniature painting thrives both as an artistic genre and as a commercially driven practice, fueled by the art market’s thirst for the next “discovery.” Desai and Sikander thrash out this thorny issue in relation to the latter’s career—forged mainly outside of her hometown, Lahore—and the unsettling attempt by some domestic critics to rewrite the history of Pakistani contemporary art.

Chinese ink painting is another traditional genre that is experiencing a cultural renaissance. Beijing-based independent curator Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres, an ink practitioner herself, introduces readers to a generation of young artists who have embraced the 2,000-year-old medium. In Seoul, AAP desk editor Jayoon Choi interviews artist duo Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, known for their interdisciplinary approach that often involves video, installation and sculpture. The pair has recently received a number of prestigious exhibition invitations and awards, participating at Documenta 13 and winning the National Museum of Contemporary Art’s Korea Art Prize last year. Moon and Jeon explain their fascination with beauty, utopia and the British Arts and Crafts movement.

Our yearlong project to mark AAP’s 20th anniversary, 20/20 attempts to pinpoint unconventional works and concepts from 1993 to the present. In this issue, Salima Hashmi, dean at the School of Visual Arts and Design at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, introduces Durriya Kazi’s Art Caravan—a mobile art project that road-tripped through Pakistan in 1994—while in Mumbai, Ranjit Hoskote meditates on a 1993 exhibition by the late Indian painter Bhupen Khakhar. Hisako Hara recalls the first time she saw Japanese Kitchen, a work created by Japanese video installation artist Tabaimo for her undergraduate thesis exhibition in 1999; and Kevin Jones explains the significance of Hassan Sharif’s long-overdue retrospective, “Experiments and Objects 1979–2011,” organized by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage in 2011.

In Essays, Uli Sigg, a prominent collector of contemporary Chinese art, draws up a typology of various styles of collecting based on his experiences of the rapidly expanding Asian art community. Independent curator Nat Muller compares the past two Home Works cultural forums in Beirut: their contrasting styles reflect the dramatic changes in the political landscape of the Middle East over the past three years.

AAP assistant editors Noelle Bodick and Sylvia Tsai take the pulse of the moment in Profiles. Tsai sits down with Indonesia’s Melati Suryodarmo, one of the few active performance artists in Southeast Asia, who trained under renowned Japanese Butoh dancer Anzu Furukawa and the “grandmother of performance art” Marina Abramović. Bodick whizzes through Hong Kong’s streets with Adrian Wong, who recently created a retro-styled pop-up bar called Wun Dun for Art Basel’s inaugural edition in Hong Kong. And on the eve of the 13th Istanbul Biennial, HG Masters meets its curator, Fulya Erdemci, to discuss the event’s conceptual framework—the public domain as political forum—and its significance after the Gezi Park protests this past summer.

For this issue’s Dispatch we land in Tokyo, where contributing editor Ashley Rawlings takes us back two decades as a way of understanding the guarded optimism that now prevails in its art community. In One on One, Singapore’s Ming Wong draws inspiration from Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl, offering a poem he penned in honor of its model, Monika Sing-Lee, while for The Point, Ingrid Dudek, a senior specialist at Christie’s, argues that auction houses can stimulate critical discourse about art, especially in nascent, fast-growing markets. Finally, in Where I Work, we tread lightly in Dinh Q. Lê’s Ho Chi Minh City studio—cluttered with antiques and his own archival-based art projects—as he prepares for his upcoming US gallery exhibition of historic photographs from the American-Vietnam War, reminding us that identity, memory and history are concepts that will always hold artistic significance.