Invisible Worlds

It’s not a hallucination. For subscribers, ArtAsiaPacific’s cover is blank except for the obligatory barcode. If you purchased this issue at a newsstand or a bookstore, you only see the AAP logo. This is not a printing error.

In fact, it is a commissioned artwork by Tavares Strachan. The cover shows a drawing of the globe, printed in invisible ink. Under ultraviolet or black light, the countries emerge with clarity, although the artist imposes an element of imagination in places, with new borders appearing and cities popping up unexpectedly in the wrong country. This artwork captures the essence of the Almanac, which seeks to recognize the best of what is already known and to reveal what still remains invisible. 

When ArtAsiaPacific was launched in 1993, the then-quarterly periodical served as a platform of exchange for a small group of curators, scholars and gallerists working in what seemed like an esoteric field of contemporary art. At the time, ArtAsiaPacific was conceived as a modest, brief supplement to a larger magazine focused on contemporary Australian art. But over time readers and writers took a particular liking to the magazine, and it became an independent venture. Now almost 18 years later, AAP remains dedicated to covering the shifting cultural landscape of Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, but our volumes are no longer slender and are now produced six times a year. While the playing field of contemporary art in the region has enlarged many times over since the early 1990s, most of the activity and attention in the early 2000s remained limited to a handful of dominant locations: the major Asian nations of China, India, Japan and South Korea. 

To address this imbalance, in 2005 the magazine’s editors decided to create a permanent record of the art communities in all 67 countries and territories that lie in our geographical scope. This publication, the Almanac, is now in its sixth edition, and is a prime source of information for artists, curators, scholars, gallerists, private dealers, auction specialists and collectors. Each year, we expand and attempt to improve the mix of illustrations, maps, figures and forecasts that guided our first steps in this endeavor. The Almanac is the A to Z  (or rather Y, for Yemen) of contemporary art for the part of the world that stretches from Turkey in the west to Samoa in the east. 

Overseeing the entire project is HG Masters, who edited last year’s edition and has worked on the Almanac since 2007. Throughout the process, he was aided by AAP’s tireless editors William Pym, Ashley Rawlings, Hanae Ko and Michael Lacoy. Co-editors Irina Makarova (Central Asia), Sara Raza (the Caucasus) and Dyer Cushman (Pacific Ocean nations) worked alongside contributors Nadia al-Issa, Angie Baecker, Zoe Butt, Duygu Demir, Jyoti Dhar, David Frazier, Sumbul Khan, Regina Mamou, Cameron Allan McKean, Siddhartha Mitter, Narawan Pathomvat, Megha Ralapati, Marlyne Sahakian, Hemant Sareen, Joshua Simon, Ana Vukadin, Darryl Wee and Catherine Wilson. Together, we tapped our personal sources and sifted through material online and in newspapers, magazines, exhibition catalogs, monographs and other printed matter. With the assistance of Almanac researcher Nadja Kirchhofer, our writers established contact with cultural ministries and foreign consulates, appraised websites, scoured databases and analyzed archives, blogs and publications in English as well as European, Asian and Middle Eastern languages. While maneuvering around a dozen time zones, they consulted those in the know, amassing information firsthand. We are grateful to these dedicated individuals and organizations that continue to share their intelligence, resources and efforts with us. 

For this year’s edition, we invited six influential figures to reflect on events of artistic concern in 2010. These include Nigora Ahmedova, artistic director of the Tashkent Biennale in Uzbekistan, and wandering curator David Elliott, formerly of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum and more recently artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney. We hear from trailblazing gallerist Valentine Willie, from Malaysia, who has toiled for more than 15 years to develop a market for contemporary art in Southeast Asia, as well as the courageous photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who in 1989 founded the Drik Picture Library in Dhaka. They each reflect on the progress made in their native and neighboring countries. Through Manray Hsu of Taipei Contemporary Art Center, who revisits recent controversies in Taiwan, and Qatari collector His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali al-Thani, who offers his vision of cultural development for the West Asia region, we are offered perspectives on domestic art scenes from an insider’s point of view. The unique portraits of these six special contributors were drawn by the acclaimed illustrator Saiman Chow. 

We also continue to refine the design of the Almanac. Creative director Jiminie Ha, photo editor Alis Atwell and designer Jonathan Greenblatt have harmoniously fine-tuned the layout, commissioned special portraits for the “Five Plus One” section, and provided a new format for more than 170 pages of editorial content.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, new lines of artistic energy are beginning to be redrawn. Despite doomsday prophesies of the art world caving in following the financial crisis of 2008, many galleries and arts organizations are formulating experimental models more appropriate for today’s challenges and needs—such as new partnerships and imaginative collaborations among artists, galleries and institutions. As artist Shahidul Alam reflects on establishing Drik Picture Library and exhibiting his international peers, such as Sebastião Salgado and Martin Parr, alongside respected photographers from Dhaka: “We knew the rules of physics could be bent. We’d done it before, and each time they’d said it was impossible . . . Our work needed to be seen and we needed to be stimulated.”

With the same conviction, ArtAsiaPacific maps the evolution of cultural development and offers views of both visible and less visible artistic landscapes—whether in the vast halls of new museums or through grassroots initiatives. As with Strachan’s cover, the world is there, in all its complexity, waiting to be seen.