Photo from the Sushila Shrestha Collection (1973). Copyright Sushila Shrestha. Courtesy Nepal Picture Library.

Radical Exposure

Also available in:  Chinese

Photography is often described as a passive media—a recording of things that happen before the lens. But for many contemporary artists and photojournalists, it is a field of active investigation and exploration. ArtAsiaPacific’s May/June issue spotlights artists who have sought to bring suppressed histories and historically marginalized groups into the light, in order to bridge societal divisions. Our cover Feature, by contributor Cleo Roberts-Komireddi, is anchored in a group exhibition held in Dubai at the Ishara Art Foundation, “Growing Like A Tree,” curated by Indian photographer Sohrab Hura, who gathered the works of South and Southeast Asian photographers, collectives, and organizations, foregrounding their affinities and mutual support. “While relations between states may be weighed down by antagonism, the common experience of heightened surveillance and censorship has bred a sense of solidarity among many ordinary citizens that cuts across borders,” Roberts-Komireddi writes. Examining the practices of the Burmese all-female Thuma Collective, Kaali Collective and Chobi Mela in Bangladesh, and Nepal’s photo.circle and Nepal Picture Library, she sets out to examine how a surge in majoritarian politics is driving photo-activism, archiving initiatives, and collaboration between collectives across the region.

Our second Feature spotlights Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Candice Lin, whose touring solo exhibition “Pigs and Poison”—currently at Guangzhou’s Guangdong Times Museum—historicizes the Covid-19-heightened scapegoating of Asians during pandemics, starting with the questionable attribution of the Black Death to Mongol troops in the 14th century. Probing the boundaries within and between species has long been of interest to Lin. Whether in her 2013 sculpture of a human-turned-cockroach or the sarcophagus that she designed in 2019 to encase the corpses of her and her future cats, she has focused on “non-humans and the dehumanized, creating projects that cross past with present and future, self with other,” writes managing editor Chloe Chu.

Rounding out the Features section, in Up Close, the editors examine three projects in which artists propose ways of overcoming societal divisions: Sarah Choo Jing’s installation about the yearning for human contact during lockdown, Zoom, Click, Waltz (2020); Mika Tajima’s latest monumental sculpture in rose quartz, Pranayama (Monolith, E, Rose Quartz) (2020); and Minouk Lim’s installation at the Gwangju Biennale of over 1,370 walking sticks, or “wounded healers” as the artist calls them. For Inside Burger Collection, writer and curator Marie Muracciole interviews Lebanese-American artist Simone Fattal. 

The Profiles section details the works of Abdullah M. I. Syed, whose practice is rooted in a “poetic resistance” that, as Susan Acret describes, “advocates for community building, family, the home, and inner transformation over pressures to attain wealth, power, and privilege.” Profiled by Kerstin Winking, Agung Kurniawan likewise orchestrates healing through community, in his roles as artist and founding curator of Yogyakarta’s Kedai Kebun Forum. Meanwhile, guided by the question of “What histories are embedded in the ground on which human civilizations were built?” Ayoung Kim traces the ever-shifting borders that have divided and brought us together, as associate editor Ophelia Lai details. 

In Essays, deputy editor HG Masters surveys the nearly 12-year-long run of the alternative space Arrow Factory, which resided in a 15-square-meter storefront in Beijing, and looks at the diverse approaches artists adopted to connect directly with the public.

In Dispatch, we hear about the intergenerational support between citizens and artists fighting for democracy in Myanmar. Elsewhere in the issue, Chicago-based artist Aram Han Sifuentes, in The Point, argues that “the US voting system perpetuates systemic racism and White supremacy” and seeks ways to remediate this with art. For One on One, Haig Aivazian, artist and artistic co-director of the Beirut Art Center, outlines how the interdisciplinary and Orientalist approach of 19th-century French painter Eugène Delacroix has posed “persistent problems that [he has] continued to find productive” in his own practice. In Fine Print, lawyers Juyoun Han and Patrick K. Lin dissect how Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act allows social media platforms the freedom to decide how and what content to ban. This has in turn impacted the free expression of artists using these digital spaces, which are moderated by AI with little distinction between context and content.  

Lastly, for Where I Work, contributor Daphne Chu visited the Taipei studio of animator Zhang Xu Zhan, who utilizes folded joss paper, customarily burned as offerings to one’s ancestors, in his stop-motion videos. Chu writes, “There is a great weight of responsibility that comes with the institution of traditional culture . . . But for Zhang Xu, as an artist, he finds it much more intriguing to combine life experiences, tales, and mythology to create universes that are ambiguous, or in his own words, placed in the zhongjian, the intermediate.” Whether researching folk traditions like Zhang Xu does to incorporate into his artworks, revisiting the worldviews humans held in past centuries, or assembling archives of images that tell little-known histories in places still deemed peripheral, artists keep memories and communities alive in the light of the present. 

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