MITHU SEN, MOU, Museum of Unbelongings, 2012, fabric and found objects, site-specific installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Vocabulary Test

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

For the September/October issue of ArtAsiaPacific,  we look at artists who extend the vocabulary of their given practices—through the use of a specific material or by adopting a range of strategies and styles, both old and new—to communicate their ideas, often in novel, unexpected ways.

We begin with New Delhi-based Bengali artist and poet Mithu Sen, whose graffiti-inspired painting I Cunt Imagine (2010) is featured on our cover. AAP contributing editor Jyoti Dhar considers the power behind Sen’s surrealistic imagery and text-based practice. Exploring universal notions of gender and beauty, Sen employs a variety of means, from watercolor paintings and collaged readymades to video and spoken-word performances. As Dhar notes, “Fearless, vulgar and antagonistic, Mithu Sen’s work has a way of stopping you in your tracks.”

Similarly challenging expectations, although active in  an entirely different era and context, is Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901–1991), best known for her lyrical abstract paintings. Revered in her native Turkey, as well as in Jordan, the home of her husband, the artist had an artistic career that spanned more than half a century, as well as many cities, artistic styles and cultural influences. While some believe her multifaceted oeuvre was a calculated tactic to avoid being pigeonholed, others say it reflected her personal life and interests. AAP UAE desk editor Kevin Jones traveled to Amman to gather firsthand accounts of her life, and to explore Zeid’s lesser-known figurative works—which helped her to intentionally “unlearn” her painting skills—created during her time in Jordan in the late 1970s and ’80s.

In another career-spanning Feature, we look at the singular artistic vision of New Zealand’s Billy Apple, who is often seen as a mercurial dabbler in a range of styles. Now approaching his 80th birthday, the artist was the subject of a large-scale retrospective at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki from March through June. Art historian and critic Martin Patrick takes readers from the key moment in the artist’s career in 1962 when young Barrie Bates “rebranded” himself as Billy Apple—borrowing the language of mass media and consumer culture—to examine the prominent themes underlying Apple’s enormous body of work, comprising 1960s Pop art, 1970s Conceptualism, institutional critique from the 1980s, and most recently art at the intersection with cutting-edge science.

Here in Hong Kong, we focus on the hermetic-seeming output of sculptor Annie Wan Lai-Kuen, who uses clay to disrupt expectations about familiar objects, such as bricks, cups and books. Paris-based curator Daniel Kurjaković explains that Wan “thins” her ceramic forms, equating the act to “homeopathic dilution, in which, paradoxically, potency is gained through a process of reducing concentration.”

Concluding the Features is Julian Rosefeldt’s “I Am at War with My Time,” for our special column Inside Burger Collection. Rosefeldt excerpts and samples 14 different manifestos from those by Marx and Engels to Jim Jarmusch to create a “manifesto of manifestos.” Intrigued to learn that men authored most of these historic pronouncements, Rosefeldt restaged these public declarations in a recent film starring Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who inhabits a variety of personas; the performances were originally captured on video and here are specially adapted as still images for print in AAP.

Meanwhile, in Profiles, we spotlight three artists who use different means to give agency to the overlooked or marginalized. AAP’s Almanac contributor Stefan Tarnowski meets with Lebanese-American photographer George Awde to discuss his series on Syrian migrant workers whose lives brought them to Lebanon and in some cases back to Syria as the country fell into civil war. AAP assistant editor Denise Tsui sits down with Vietnam’s Dinh Q. Lê to hear about his ongoing projects that focus on communities affected by war and upheaval. Singaporean curator Annie Jael Kwan introduces the work of Khmer-American artist Anida Yoeu Ali, whose provocative performances look at race and religion-based conflict. During Art Basel in June, AAP editor at large HG Masters caught up with Zürich-based collector Haro Cümbüşyan to learn more about the formation of his micro nonprofit Collectorspace, located in his hometown of Istanbul, which exhibits unusual yet exemplary works from private collections from around the world. For anyone headed to the Istanbul Biennial this month, Collectorspace should be included on your cultural itinerary.

Rounding out the issue, Taiwanese artist Charwei Tsai, known for her sutra-inscribed works, pens a One on One in admiration of the 20th-century Pakistani modern master Ustad Allah Bakhsh (1895–1978). Art scholar Melia Belli Bose files a positive assessment of the Bangladeshi art scene in her Dispatch from Dhaka, while Harry Blain, founder of Sedition Art, explains why digital limited-edition artworks constitute the most exciting platform for both artists and collectors today. In Essays, AAP contributing editor Chin-Chin Yap looks at the legal challenges unfolding in the burgeoning and unrestricted field of drone art, while Taiwan desk editor David Frazier ruminates on a recent initiative to auction off the naming rights to a garbage landfill in Manila. From Dubai, Kevin Jones concludes his three-part series on the United Arab Emirates’ arts infrastructure with an analysis of the vital contributions made by various local collectors.

Finally, in Fine Print, Hong Kong-based attorney Antony Dapiran uses the recent court case filed by New York collector Ronald Perelman against gallerist Larry Gagosian to illustrate the urgent need to sign contracts when making high-value art transactions. In Where I Work, managing editor Denise Chu travels to Beijing to check out the studio of Xu Bing, where she discovers new projects in the making along with some old favorites, such as Ghosts Pounding the Wall (1990–91), a print work made from an ink impression of a section of the Great Wall of China. Renowned for his investigations of language, Xu is one of the many artists who are unflinchingly determined to destabilize our understanding of the world by creating new meanings through new forms.