WONG WAI YIN, Anti-Hong Kong Musée of Art: Museum of Possibility (detail), 2007-08, mixed-media installation with sculptures and c-prints. Courtesy the artist.

Structuring a Way Forward

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Two months after moving into our new headquarters in Hong Kong, infrastructures have been an ongoing topic of conversation among the editors. Not only how to set up our formerly New York-based editorial office in Asia, but also how our peers in the field might approach building their own arts organizations—from artist-run spaces to large museums—in the many burgeoning but institutionally starved scenes throughout the region.

In this issue, ArtAsiaPacific considers the many frameworks already operating in Asia alongside those that are taking root, and the figures who influence these nascent communities. In our cover feature, managing editor Olivier Krischer ponders the work of young Hong Kong artist Wong Wai Yin, fresh from a residency at the Asia Art Archive, whose whimsical project to create an alternative Hong Kong art history points to identity issues in the territory’s tightly-knit art scene. Wong’s work picks apart and plays with museum practices as well as broader notions of authority in the art world—from her hand-rendered copy of the 2005 Hong Kong Art Biennial catalog, to her playfully ironic architectural model and poster series “If You Have Money, Build HK a Museum” (2007–08). She speaks candidly about the troubled arts scene in Hong Kong: “It’s about a lack of discussion and communication between artists and other art workers . . . I was even angry about how cruelly this city treats her cultural workers; and that anger shifted to the museum.” With West Kowloon Cultural District—Hong Kong’s attempt at a major international museum project—looming in the coming decade, those behind the project would do well to listen to the various voices that constitute the art scene here.

Meanwhile in Singapore, where the city-state has more art museums than most of its neighboring countries, censorship continues to occur—most recently during this year’s Singapore Biennale. Susie Lingham, assistant professor of visual and performing arts at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, considers the state’s tormented history of censorship in the arts and how such actions—whether in the insidious form of self-censorship or the explicit blacklisting of artists and their supporters—hinder free expression, one of the main pillars of culture and human rights in an open society.

The role of artists in China’s liberalization is taken up by AAP contributing editor Andrew Cohen in his piece looking back at the self-taught sculptor Wang Keping’s oeuvre. Wang is best known for his iconic distorted busts of Mao Zedong carved from the late 1970s in bits of recyled and disused wood. He and his contemporaries made history when they challenged the system as China began to open under Deng Xiaoping. Turning to West Asia, in a forum organized by independent nonprofit arts organization Artis and AAP’s editor-at-large HG Masters, we invited reflections on navigating the art worlds in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine. Among the storytellers, Said Abu Shakra, director of the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery, discusses the motivation behind setting up a museum for contemporary and Palestinian art in Israel; Jack Persekian, founding director of al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem, offers an unnerving account of living and working in a militarized zone; and Israeli artist Ronen Eidelman describes the transformative process of an art project  that took him through historic Eretz Yisrael-Palestina (“Land of Israel-Palestine”).

In Profiles, contributing editor Michael Young sits down with artist Yee Sookyung and reflects on the new direction of her work, including her performances incorporating traditional Korean music and dance. Allison White travels to Karachi and brings back a snapshot of the diverse activities of Pakistani artists’ collective Vasl, which has supported local artists and fostered international connections for well over a decade, both on- and offline. Dubai desk editor Isabella E. Hughes visits the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art to speak with its co-founders, Edward and Sonia Balassanian, about cutting-edge art in Yerevan over the past 20 years.

In Essays, Jyoti Dhar comments on curatorial practices in India, and reviews editor Hanae Ko questions Japan’s institutional understanding of “culture” reflected in the government’s Order of Culture prize—which has even been awarded to American astronauts. For Case Study, Chin-chin Yap discusses the recent copyright lawsuit brought against painter Sarah Morris by six origami artists and its impact on artist’s right to “fair use.”

This issue’s Dispatch is filed by independent curator and scholar Sunjung Kim from Seoul, which, with the recent and upcoming opening of new nonprofit spaces and museums, may have the most dynamic art infrastructure in the region. Not all expansion efforts are cheered, however. While Abu Dhabi is determined to rival New York, London and Paris as a world-class metropolis, an international group of artists has brought to the world’s attention the inhumane treatment of the migrant workers building the region’s monumental brand-name museums. In the Point, one of the protesting group’s artists, Gregory Sholette, explains why they are boycotting the Guggenheim’s Saadiyat Island development. Writing with similar passion in One on One, Bali-based Neo-Geo artist Ashley Bickerton ruminates on the paintings of Indonesian painter Nyoman Masriadi, while in Questionnaire, Hong Kong’s Ho Siu Kee points out the one tool he could never live without: his hands.

Commenting on cultural production in distinct locales, senior editor Don J. Cohn analyzes three new books that explore fake, fine and folk art, respectively. Exhibition reviews take us from Karachi to Los Angeles, Port Moresby to Florence—and places in between. In Beijing, we attend the new-media bonanza exhibition, “TransLife”; in London, we visit “Between Heaven and Earth: Contemporary Art from the Centre of Asia,” curated by David Elliott and featuring over 20 artists from Central Asia; and in Chicago, we report on the Museum of Contemporary Art’s showcasing of the work of Japanese pioneer dance artists Eiko & Koma. We also include a long-form review of this year’s Yokohama Triennale, entitled “Our Magic Hour,” which went ahead as planned despite the tragic earthquake and tsunami on March 11. In the aftermath, the Triennale posed the question: “How much of the world can we know?” The answer, like the stories collected from Israel and Palestine or Wong’s fight against artistic isolation and societal neglect, confirms the mission of art: a matter not of juggling the architectural “master plan” or in having an endless acquisitions budget, but rather of connecting people on the most basic human level.