BHUPEN KHAKHAR, Interior of a Hindu Temple III, 1975, mixed media (printed paper, paint and silver foil) on board, 116 × 90 cm. Copyright the artist’s estate. Courtesy Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore.

Record Makers

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

At a recent dinner party, I was seated next to a gallerist who shows young artists from Hong Kong. I was struck by his quirky description of one of his artists: he called him a “human photocopier.” That description recalled the late Martin Wong, featured in this issue of ArtAsiaPacific, who referred to himself as a “human instamatic” early in his career when, as a street artist in northern California, he sketched portraits in a matter of minutes for $7.50 apiece. 

While art-making is often believed to be a private activity, it in fact frequently involves extensive research, periods of extraordinary focus and direct engagement with realities that many choose to ignore. The May/June issue of AAP looks at several artistic practices that constitute varying forms of “recording”—not just by replicating appearances on a blank canvas or sheet of paper, but by revealing and documenting their observations of society.

We begin with a Feature interview with New York-based Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar, who discusses his nearly four-decade exploration of image-making and sociopolitical divisions. Speaking to AAP Latin America desk editor Inti Guerrero, Jaar reveals the impetus behind many of his complex and emotionally charged works: his lesser-known “Hong Kong Project” (1990–93), on the Vietnamese “boat people” crisis, and one of his longest and most challenging endeavors to date, “The Rwanda Project” (1994–2000), which chronicles one of the most violent acts of ethnic genocide in recent history. He explains, “To travel to Hong Kong and visit the camps was, essentially, my modest way to express solidarity with the boat people incarcerated there . . . I have always regarded these different witnesses as signs of solidarity in a landscape of tragedy.”

Our Features also spotlight two artists who dedicated most of their careers to giving representation to those on the fringes of society. An accountant-turned-artist-and-writer, Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003) was an adored figure in the tight-knit artistic and literary circles in India. His works were witty observations on class and the transformations taking place in a newly independent country. Though he struggled to be openly gay in a straight, largely male-dominated society of the 1960s and ’70s, Khakhar was known for his vibrant, often autobiographical paintings as well as his candid depictions of traditional Indian life. On the eve of a major retrospective at Tate Modern in June, AAP contributing editor Jyoti Dhar examines Khakhar’s lasting influence on his contemporaries as well as on a younger generation of artists working in South Asia.

Similarly focused on life on the margins was Chinese-American artist Martin Wong (1946–1999), a fixture of New York City’s Lower East Side art scene in the 1980s and a chronicler of a specific time and place. Wong collected graffiti art and made paintings that captured a New York experiencing a wild outburst of creativity while plagued by crime, drugs and a devastating AIDS epidemic. As AAP contributing editor Ingrid Dudek writes, “As a painter, as well as a fervent collector, Wong seems to have prophetic insight into the material and emotional fabric—the essential humanity—of New York’s most vulnerable communities.”

Rounding out Features, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s senior curator Anne Loxley offers a comprehensive appraisal of color-field abstractionist Sydney Ball’s five-decade career, including his little-known exploration of semi-figuration in the 1980s and ’90s.

Finally, in our special feature Inside the Burger Collection, Mori Art Museum associate curator Reiko Tsubaki sifts through the work of Tokyo-based sculptor Motohiko Odani and his explorations of the human body.

In Profiles, AAP senior editor Don J. Cohn visits Mika Tajima in her Brooklyn studio for a firsthand look at her paintings that physically translate sound into colorful, patterned canvases. While in Beijing, contributing editor Michael Young meets the rising artist Ma Qiusha, known for her affecting video performances as well as her hypnotic, architecturally inspired watercolor-collage constructions. In Hong Kong, Simon Frank sips chai with the peripatetic Nepali-Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol, and discusses his recent work as well as his research on the Tibetan diaspora who seek refuge in India. Finally, from Dubai, AAP UAE desk editor Kevin Jones meets up with curator, collector and philanthropist Dana Farouki.

In Essays, AAP editor at large HG Masters considers modern Turkey’s brief encounter with the most passé of painterly subjects, the nude, while artist and art critic Anthony Leung Po Shan reflects on a recent cross-section of art from Hong Kong presented by Sotheby’s in February.

Our Dispatch takes us to Doha, where Lesley Ann Gray describes a small yet highly ambitious art scene that is maturing on its own terms. Likewise, Singaporean artist Heman Chong questions what more artists can do with the country’s generous cultural policies that over the past two decades have galvanized his generation of local artists, curators and writers. And in One on One, Taipei’s preeminent filmmaker and video artist Chen Chieh-jen ruminates on the short-lived Bitai Thoan association, active between 1925–27 as an early form of art-based resistance in Taiwanese colonial history.

Closing out the issue, for Where I Work, AAP travels to the foot of the Hajar Mountains, on the eastern shores of the United Arab Emirates, to visit the studio of pioneering land artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. Among the rocks, wood and detritus collected in the vicinity of his home and workspace, with which he creates prehistoric-looking drawings and sculptures, Ibrahim reflects—like many artists highlighted in this issue—that his role as an artist is “to sort through, to show, to point out what already exists.”