PIO ABAD, My dear, there are always people who are just a little faster, more brilliant, and more aggressive II, 2016, acid dye print on hand stitched silk twill, 120 × 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Silverlens, Manila. 

New Emperors, Old Clothes

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Although the northern hemisphere is shifting into its summer retreats, there are plenty of reasons to take a critical look at the present state of the world. In Asia, observers are watching how things unfold with newly elected presidents in Taiwan and the Philippines, particularly as tensions are escalating in the South China Sea. In the United States, the battle for the presidency will only grow more noxious until election day on November 8. The European refugee crisis is continuing, and possibly worsening, while the United Kingdom will decide whether to stay in the European Union, or “Brexit,” on June 23. For many looking at the world’s leaders, there is a fear of history repeating itself in the forms of fascism, isolationism and grandiosity. In the July/August issue of ArtAsiaPacific, the editors take a close look at artists who explore their countries’ recent troubled histories and their attempts to resist the whitewashing of the past.

We begin with Pio Abad, whose work—a silk scarf featuring a printed silhouette of Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines—is featured on the cover of this issue. The 33-year-old Filipino artist, currently based in London, is obsessed with the Marcos family and the power they misused while ruling the Philippines for two decades. AAP’s Philippines desk editor Marlyne Sahakian traveled to the United Kingdom to talk with the young artist in his Gasworks studio, where, Sahakian writes, “Abad has since uncovered many of the items associated with the infamous family, from both their public and private lives, from the precious to the mundane, and painstakingly examined them to lay bare the power structures at play in the creation of national identities and political regimes such as the Philippines.”

In Istanbul, AAP editor at large HG Masters surveys the career of Hale Tenger, one of Turkey’s most daring and politically engaged artists. Born in 1960, Tenger grew up during the political violence of the 1970s that eventually led to the military coup in the 1980s. She belongs to a generation of artists who spoke out against the culture of violence that the country endured up through the Kurdish conflicts of the 1990s and 2000s—and which has returned with a new ferocity in the past year—and her commentary often appeared visually in her installations of charged symbols and oppressive environments. For instance, 1997’s The Closet is a bleak re-creation of a common Turkish apartment of the 1980s. As Masters revisits some of her earliest as well as most controversial pieces, he notes how Tenger’s work feels eerily relevant today.

Although not mining the past, Japanese independent curator Hitomi Hasegawa spotlights the growing number of artists and curators working in Japan who choose to reject government support in order to sidestep potential censorship when commenting on life, post-Fukushima. Similarly in our special feature Inside the Burger Collection, Tra Nguyen, the general manager of leading nonprofit Sàn Art in Vietnam, pens a short story about an uncanny conversation with a mysterious character. 

In Profiles, former AAP editor Susan Acret meets Japanese installation artist Chiharu Shiota—known for her elaborate works often involving thread, beds and keys—during her participation at the 20th Biennale of Sydney. From Manila, Jennifer Baum Lagdameo sits down with video artist Martha Atienza to discuss her socially engaged practice that often delves into economic and environmental issues. Rounding out the section, Amsterdam-based independent curator Kerstin Winking introduces the work of another video artist, Pallavi Paul of New Delhi, who weaves together archival footage with her own documentary recordings of political protests against censorship and for women’s rights.

In Essays, HG Masters looks at what an “indigenized” paradigm might mean after spending time at curator Stephen Gilchrist’s exhibition “Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia,” recently hosted at the Harvard Art Museums. In March, AAP assistant editor Denise Tsui attended Sharjah Art Foundation’s annual March Meeting and reflects on the strategies proposed during the conference for safeguarding the role of art education in an increasingly market-driven art ecology.

Elsewhere in the issue, for The Point, video artist Paul Pfeiffer contemplates the idea of home from the position of a transnational artist working today. Kyoto-based artist Teppei Kaneuji, known for his sculptures made of unconventional materials such as the hair pieces of action toy figures or plastic food, explains his love of noise-punk musician EYヨ in One on One. Allegorical characters from Persian literature are the focus of work by Afghan artist Khadim Ali, whom AAP contributing editor Michael Young visits in his new Sydney studio for Where I Work. Ali explains the inspiration of his work: “My grandfather was a Shahnameh singer. When refugees came to Pakistan, many gathered in our house and my grandfather would sing for them, stories of heroes and demons, the bright and the dark sides of humanity.” Ali’s work points to the long, almost mythical, history of human struggle and persecution. Unfortunately, just because the story is familiar doesn’t ensure that the world will have immunity from repeating cruel actions of the past.