From cosplay to steampunk: Artist Chitra Ganesh on her multi-discursive practice – interview

Mixed media artist Chitra Ganesh references history, contemporary visual culture and literature to create new narratives of femininity and power.

Art Radar caught up with the artist for a long conversation while she was at work at Lakeeren Gallery, Mumbai. We asked her about aspects of her formal training, the influence of New York’s art scene on her work, as well as the themes of female figures and merging bodies with objects in her work.

Chitra Ganesh, 'The Unknowns: Figure (Ma)', 2009, charcoal on paper and mixed media, 101.6 x 203.2cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Chitra Ganesh, ‘The Unknowns: Figure (Ma)’, 2009, charcoal on paper and mixed media, 101.6 x 203.2cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Chitra Ganesh (b. 1975), of Indian origin, was born and brought up in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Brown University in 1996 with a BA in Comparative Literature and Art Semiotics, she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2001 and received an MFA from Columbia University in 2002.

Ganesh’s solo exhibition “Drawing from the Present” is at Lakeeren Gallery from 25 July to 30 September 2014.

Chitra Ganesh, 'Nuclear waters' from Broadway Billboard series, 2013, archival lightjet print, 11 x 28ft. Image courtesy the artist.

Chitra Ganesh, ‘Nuclear waters’ from Broadway Billboard series, 2013, archival lightjet print, 11 x 28ft. Image courtesy the artist.

Of Indian origin, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, how has this ‘identity’ influenced your artistic practice over the years? Has it come with certain assumptions, expectations or criticism from the audience?

I think it has. The United States has a very specific cultural context, in which geographic and racial identity take on a very different resonance than they do in many other countries. I think because of this, in a few instances, there is an expectation to use my ‘Indianness’ as the primary lens for reading my work; that because my works situate female protagonists and fragmented bodies in the same frame, that I am somehow commenting “on violence against women in India”.

For this, it has been very important to create and locate multiple discursive contexts for my work in order to make its many layers accessible beyond the scope of a reductive reading such as the one above. In each location my work is read, certain references are gleaned and understood, while others are less available to viewers in that cultural space. For example, there is not the same keen interest to understand my work as being about an Indian experience here in India – the kinds of messages that viewers access go beyond this identitarian frame to include Indian visual culture referents such as the Amar Chitra Katha, early mythological paintings, etc.

At the same time, there is a strong trajectory of feminist art practice in the United States, including artists such as Martha Rosler, Janine Antoni, Carolee Schneeman and Ana Mendieta – a trajectory which is helpful in moving my work beyond certain geographic limits. I have also been enormously influenced and supported by my engagement with African-American contemporary artists and arts community in the United States, something which is less likely to animate the reading of my work in an Indian context.


Chitra Ganesh, ‘Fire and Water’, 2009, charcoal on paper and mixed media. Image courtesy the artist.

Your practice encompasses drawing, painting, photography, installation, mixed media and performance. Could you tell us about your formal training and exploration of different mediums? 

My formal training was in painting and printmaking. I was, and still am, primarily drawn to painting and now, increasingly, drawing. These continue to be the anchor of my practice, but I very much enjoy working in other media – specifically video, collaborative projects, text-based works, and photography.

I believe that each medium is accompanied by its own set of visual referents. In previous encounters, the audience may have had with that medium, and how those previous experiences of, say, viewing photography in fields such as fashion or photojournalism would inform their reading of contemporary art. I enjoy thinking about what kinds of visual contexts an audience might bring to the work, and adding something different – perhaps slightly disruptive – to reframe their process of viewing and engaging with my visual works.


Chitra Ganesh, 2014, wall drawing. Image courtesy the artist.

How would you locate your work in the global context? Tell us a bit about the cross-cultural aspect of your work.

Coming of age within New York City’s multiple art scenes has been enormously influential to my work. From the years when I was thinking about going to graduate school to when I received my MFA from Columbia (1999-2002), the art scene, socio-political landscape and economic conditions that young artists encountered in New York were quite different. For one, the city was much more affordable – now it is extremely difficult for young artists without external financial support to live, work, and have time to experiment with making art while exploring a variety of social and artistic scenes. There were also many artist-centred institutions that offered opportunities to young and unknown artists – from employment to juried submissions and small community-based curatorial projects that created a platform for those who were virtually unknown to share their work in a public context. This is still happening in some ways, although I think that technology’s expanding visual interfaces, from Instagram to Facebook to Twitter, now constitute some of those platforms.

At that time, I attended workshops at museums and [non-governmental art organisations] geared towards supporting young artists, got lots of feedback on my work, and learned how to write grant proposals, put together an artist statement, and present my work to new and sometimes unwelcoming audiences. I was able to work a few different jobs, create work in my flat, and meet with friends and artist groups there.

Two particularly important New York-based spaces that were important for my development were the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) and Art in General, an artist-centred initiative nestled in between Chinatown and Tribeca. SAWCC is a nonprofit multidisciplinary arts organisation in New York City that aimed to give desi women artists a platform to exhibit and share work. At that time, there was only one gallery in New York that showed contemporary South Asian art, Bose Pacia Modern (now closed and operating as the +91 Foundation), and few people would have been able to name an artist of Indian origin in the global art scene outside of Anish Kapoor. SAWCC organised public exhibitions in ad hoc downtown art spaces, monthly meetings where artists presented their work, and so on.

Working at Art in General was very important as well. I created lectures for school and college groups around contemporary art, and saw up close how a truly artist-centred space – one which subsisted primarily on grants and foundation funding, nurtured very young artists and had an active international residency programme – functioned on a daily basis. My artistic coming of age in New York’s diverse and charged multiplicity of art scenes and most importantly, outside of a market-centred understanding of art production and consumption, played a vital role in shaping my work.

References from history, literature and contemporary visual culture all play a role in forming a layered narrative in your work. Could you elaborate on your creative thought process? How do you go about researching and envisaging new artworks?

Sometimes, I read articles on topics that interest me, for example, some current developments in climate or space research, and I follow these threads via further readings, sketches, and casually playing around with creating new visual imagery that responds to the research. At other times, I have ideas that are generated from literature, which compel me to do further historical research, such as looking at architecture, storytelling and other creative media from this period.

This has been the case recently, for example, in re-reading the fiction of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai. My inspiration also comes from print culture, such as posters, flyers, magazines and newspapers, as well as other democratic visual languages in everyday life, such as graffiti and street art, illustration and the complex world of comics, including cosplay, steampunk, etc. I often take photographs as materials to use for studies, in the process of collage, which is central to my practice.

Chitra Ganesh, 'She the Question, Head on fire', 2012 archival lightjet print, 178 x 127cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Chitra Ganesh, ‘She the Question…Head in Flames’, 2012 archival lightjet print, 178 x 127cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Your work is visually bold and arresting, conceptually layered with themes and narratives of female sexuality, violence and power, where the body is the prime location of narration. How do you bring these together?

Largely just from seeing how much the female figure has been engaged in art since the beginning… the cave paintings, the commissioning of art by people in power, the history of the nude in western art and representation of women in the mainstream, in advertising, on television. There’s always a dissonance between the sort of stereotype and the signifier that you see projected than the actual nuance. That is something that informed my interest in this subject. And my interest in certain icons that were outside of the mainstream and whose stories were slightly different, such as Tina Turner and Phoolan Devi, among others.

Collage has been an important aspect of my practice. I like to bring different references, different kinds of visual languages together – geographically and formally different – and seeing new ways of telling a story and presenting a point of view. There are many ways to narrate a story of femininity. Seeing the relationship between figures, trying to combine and make it visually interesting. And having imagery that is extremely overbearing but light at the same time because of the quality of the line and the poses of the women, kind of creating a dual point of entry for the viewers to think about.

Which are some of the specific stories and mythic figures that you have included in your work?

There has been a broad and sprawling range of mythic figures that have come into my work in both significant and liminal ways. A few of the mythic tales and moments that come to mind are: Salome, Judith and Holfernes, Scherezade and the Arabian Nights, the Illiad and the Odyssey, as well as contemporary writer Anne Carson’s rich explorations of classical mythic materials, Sita jumping into the earth (Bhoomi Mata) at the end of the Ramayana, the Mahasiddhas – a sect of the 10th-11th century Tibetan saints who contended with and consumed abjection and horror as a means to self-realisation, the Yoruba pantheon of legends, and more.

My background in and love for literature has been a big influence as well, including, for example, mythic tales such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, Pokeya Sakhawat Hussain’s Sultana’s Dream, and graphic novel giant Osamu Tezuka’s eight-volume series narrating the life of the Buddha, including issues such as Buddha’s political engagement, his anti-caste position, which are often absent from more mainstream tellings of his life.

What is your studio like? A number of artworks in the making, a library of comic books, any specific equipment?

My studio is replete with multiple art materials as well as materials of inspiration. There are, of course, many different pigments, glues, and papers. But there are also multiple bits of objects and visual fragments that I collect and amass over time, which seep into my work eventually. These include anything from fluorescent hair extensions to broken glass and mirrors that I find on the side of the road, sequins, mannequin arms and hands, a variety of fabrics and textiles which find their way into the work, rangoli powder and gravel, newspaper clippings, scraps cut out from comics and magazines, vintage comics and manga, a few issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, old love letters, books of poetry and contemporary visual theory, and psychedelic art, just to name a few.


Chitra Ganesh, 2014, drawing (work in progress). Image courtesy the artist.

What are some of your upcoming projects and exhibitions?

Forthcoming projects include a commissioned site-specific installation at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Galleries, which will be on view from December 2014 to September 2015 – a commissioned work for The Water Tank Project, using contemporary public works to generate awareness around water issues globally and locally. My work will be a 10 by 40 feet mural to be wrapped around a water tank in Lower Manhattan, and a site-specific collaborative project with Bombay-based artist Dhruvi Acharya, which will be featured as a curated program for the India Art Fair in 2015.

I will also be a visiting artist at the Rhode Island School of Design via Kirloskar Visiting Scholar program, a newly endowed initiative being inaugurated this fall.

Jigna Padhiar


Related Topics: American, Indian, drawing, painting, feminist art, identity art, gallery show, events in Mumbai, interviews

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Saudi art from the 1970s to the present at Ayyam Gallery Jeddah – in pictures

An exhibition at Ayyam Gallery traces the development of Saudi art from the 1970s to the present.

Ayyam Gallery in Jeddah is holding a group exhibition of first generation artists from post-1970 Saudi Arabia who contributed to the shaping of a national identity through art. The show delineates the transformation, influences and evolution of modern Saudi art in the past four decades through the work of some pioneering artists from the country.

Abdulhalim Radwi, 'Hornpipe', 1998, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdulhalim Radwi, ‘Hornpipe’, 1998, oil on canvas, 100 x 80cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Taliaa” at the Ayyam Gallery Jeddah from 11 July to 16 October 2014 is a group exhibition of some of the most influential names in Saudi art post-1970. The show features the work of eight critics and artists who were among the first generation to study abroad in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom and to receive formal art education. They are:

  • Abdulhalim Radwi
  • Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya
  • Taha Al Sabban
  • Abdullah Al Shaikh
  • Mohammed Al Resayes
  • Abdullah Hamas
  • Albulrahman Al Soliman
  • Mohammad Al Saleem
Taha Mohammed Al Sabban, 'Neighborhood', 1996, oil on canvas, 50 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Taha Mohammed Al Sabban, ‘Neighborhood’, 1996, oil on canvas, 50 x 90cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abstraction and Western influences

The exhibition illustrates how Western Modernist schools such as Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism and other post-war movements of abstraction were a major influence on these artists. Nonetheless, each one of them developed an individual style that aimed to harmoniously bridge western styles and techniques with local themes and concepts, referencing Saudi culture, tradition and environment.

Abduljabbar Al Yahya, 'Faces', 1995, oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abduljabbar Al Yahya, ‘Faces’, 1995, oil on canvas, 50 x 65cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

The Beginnings of Saudi Art

In his catalogue essay “The Beginnings of Fine Art in Saudi Arabia”, exhibition curator Abdulaziz Ashour writes:

Art in Saudi Arabia developed thanks to the individual efforts of artists aiming to preserve local tradition and culture within a society that did not necessarily support art education and instruction in the same way as the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, 'Beginnings 3', 1977, oil on canvas, 50 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Ayyma Gallery.

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, ‘Beginnings 3′, 1977, oil on canvas, 50 x 70cm. Image courtesy Ayyma Gallery.

The curator mentions that one of the artists, Abdulhalim Radwi (1939–2006), started being recognised for his artistic talents in the mid-1950s. He was the winner of the first official painting competition in high school with his work The Village, a simple painting of trees and clay houses and was also the first artist to pursue studies abroad.

Taha Mohammed Al Sabban, 'Bab Rezq', 2010, oil on canvas, 92 x 122 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Taha Mohammed Al Sabban, ‘Bab Rezq’, 2010, oil on canvas, 92 x 122cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

1965 saw the establishment of the Artistic Education Institute, an event that marked a turning point for artistic production in Saudi Arabia, along with the support of the Youth Care Association. Many of the country’s most significant artists graduated from the Institute while Youth Care supported the self-taught ones, including Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya (b. 1931) and Taha Al Sabban (b. 1948).

  Mohammad Al Saleem, 'Untitled', 1986, oil on canvas, 60 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Mohammad Al Saleem, ‘Untitled’, 1986, oil on canvas, 60 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdullah Al Shaikh (b.1936) was the first to obtain an academic degree in art in 1959 from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, while Mohammed Al Resayes (b.1950) and Abdullah Hamas (b.1953) graduated from the Art Institute in Al Riyadh, and Albulrahman Al Soliman (b. 1954) from the Teachers Institute in Al Damman. Mohammad Al Saleem (1939-1997) attended the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence, Italy and came back to teach western techniques and styles.

Abdullah Al Shaikh, 'Contemporary Series 1', 2007, oil on wood, 80 x 122 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdullah Al Shaikh, ‘Contemporary Series 1′, 2007, oil on wood, 80 x 122cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Mohammad Al Resayes, 'Borrowed from Tradition', 1980, oil on canvas, 92 x 61 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Mohammad Al Resayes, ‘Borrowed from Tradition’, 1980, oil on canvas, 92 x 61cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

The creation of a national identity in Saudi art

The eight artists, born between 1930 and 1960, all contributed to the evolution and development of Saudi art. They participated in the debates around art that took place during the 1980s, which saw the emergence of three main factions. The first was directly related to heritage, tradition and custom, the second saw tradition and heritage as obstacles to advancement, and the third called for a more flexible approach that joined Modernism with tradition.

Abdullah Hammas, 'Abstract 1', 1973, oil on canvas, 75 x 55 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdullah Hammas, ‘Abstract 1′, 1973, oil on canvas, 75 x 55cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

The “Taliaa” pioneers pushed for the West and East to be part of a cohesive style. Some withdrew from society to work, while others constantly took part in the dialogue, but all of them contributed toward shaping what Saudi art has become today.

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, 'Climates 2', 1993, mixed media on cardbroad, 90 x 91 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, ‘Climates 2′, 1993, mixed media on cardbroad, 90 x 91cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Ashour writes in his curatorial essay:

The pioneer artists in the local art scene renewed their visual experiences, and developed the aesthetic vision that wavered between being inspired by heritage, tradition, and what they learnt from experience and technique in school […] These innovations furthered the art experience as simple gestures changed into real visions belonging to new aesthetic and theoretical conditions. The most important issue unearthed during this time was the upholding of a national identity.

 Abdulhalim Radwi, 'Almadina Al Monawara', 1995, oil on canvas, 100 x 80.5 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Abdulhalim Radwi, ‘Almadina Al Monawara’, 1995, oil on canvas, 100 x 80.5cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Mohammad Al Resayes, 'Waiting for the End', 1985, oil on canvas, 55 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Mohammad Al Resayes, ‘Waiting for the End’, 1985, oil on canvas, 55 x 90cm. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Saudi artists, art and identity, painting, Islamic art, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in Jeddah

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Kampala Art Biennale 2014: A new contemporary art stage for Africa

Africa gets a new contemporary art biennale in Kampala, Uganda.

The Kampala Art Biennale’s first edition will be launched in August 2014 - an exciting addition to the vibrant African art scene that has been developing in recent years. Like other key events and institutions in the continent, the biennale aims to recognise the role of African contemporary art at home and integrate it on the international stage.

Florine Demosthene, 'Bitta Disappointment', ink, charcoal, graphite and oil bar on polypropylene, 72 x 91.44 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Florine Demosthene, ‘Bitta Disappointment’, ink, charcoal, graphite and oil bar on polypropylene, 72 x 91.44cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The Kampala Art Biennale was established by the Kampala Arts Trust in partnership with the Uganda Tourism Board. The Kampala Arts Trust is a local contemporary art collective of visual and performance art practitioners run by Biennale curator and Artistic Director Daudi Karungi and curator and Artistic Advisor Henry ‘Mzili’ Mujunga.

Founded as a platform to educate, expose and create debate about contemporary art and its value in society, the Biennale also aims to recognise contemporary African art and integrate it into the international art stage. The Biennale’s vision is ‘afro-centric’, as it focuses on the promotion of artists – both local and foreign – who are active within the African continent.

Running from 1 to 31 August 2014, the Biennale will include more than 100 artworks by 45 artists from 13 different African countries. The exhibiting artists work in diverse media, from painting and sculpture to photography, video and installation.

Ezra Wube, 'Mengedu 5', 2005-2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 16 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Ezra Wube, ‘Mengedu 5′, 2005-2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 16cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

A debate for Africa

Themed “Progressive Africa”, the first edition of the Biennale seeks to address issues that concern Africa’s present situation and its future development, whether social, economic or political. The concept is based on the current pan-African, and increasingly global debate about “Africa is Now” versus “Africa is The Future”.

Topics at hand include the pursuit of sustainable economic growth and the creation of cultural sensitivity around current health, social and development issues. HIV prevention, efforts to create a cultural policy for African countries, the reduction of poverty, increasing access to and level of education and attaining other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are just a few examples.

Georges Senga, 'UNE VIE APRES LA MORT',  dyptich, Inkjet print on baritç paper, 140 x 82 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Georges Senga, ‘Une Vie Après la Mort’, diptych, inkjet print on baritç paper, 140 x 82cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The artists all engage with Africa’s contemporary history and question its political, social and economic practices, whether supporting or criticising them. In the press release, the organisers of the Biennale state that:

The Kampala Art Biennale 2014 is set to serve as a conduit through which to start a debate that we so desperately need right now about a modern and progressive Africa starting right here in Kampala. There is a need to generate discussions centred on looking beyond aid to the financial resources Africa needs to enable transformative growth.

Paul Ndema, 'Wings Spread', acrylics and ink on watercolour paper, 38 x 55 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Paul Ndema, ‘Wings Spread’, acrylics and ink on watercolour paper, 38 x 55cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

“An African art city”: Why Kampala?

Kampala is the capital of Uganda and its largest city. It is also home to the Makerere Univerisity, one of the most important and prestigious higher learning institutions in East and Central Africa, and the East Africa Development Bank.

Kampala also played host to an assembly of African countries that drafted the idea for the Conference on Security, Stability Development and Co-operation in Africa (CSSDCA), which was adopted in 2000. The Kampala assembly took place in 1991 and led to the adoption of the Kampala Document, which sets out a vision for a free and prosperous Africa based on an accountable government, implementation of democratic reforms and a thriving civil society as a road map for Post Cold War Africa. This document was the precursor for subsequent agreements set out by the CSSDCA.

Michael Soi, 'The general election 2', acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Michael Soi, ‘The general election 2′, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Being such a cultural and historically significant centre of debate, Kampala seems like the right place for creating discussion about Africa’s progress and development that includes art in the dialogue. The Biennale’s Artistic Director Daudi Karungi explains:

When it comes to the Art scene in Africa today, a few African artists and cities are known on the global art scene. The artists are usually those that are in the Diaspora and represented by top galleries in Europe and America, and the cities are those that had a strong colonial presence which influenced the arts and cultural developments. That said, Africa is full of very creative un-connected, un-represented artists that define art in Africa today. The Kampala Art biennale was, therefore, created out of the need for inclusion expressed by these artists working on the African continent trying to reach the global art scene. Secondly, because of a need to create new art hubs in Africa, Kampala took this opportunity to boost its tourism by starting the process of labeling its self as an African art city.

Eria Sane Nsubuga, 'The art of faking it', 2014. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Eria Sane Nsubuga, ‘The art of faking it’, 2014. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The 2014 edition of the Kampala Art Biennale will be the first ever biennale for Kampala. The East Africa Biennale (EASTAFAB), which was founded in 2003 and originates in Dar Es Salam in Tanzania, holds touring editions in Kampala and Nairobi.

Kampala also features the Kampala Arts Festival (Klaart), established in cooperation with the Kampala Arts Trust. The Trust eventually pulled out of the event’s organisation as it felt that the fair was too focused on a colonial attitude towards art in Africa. In contrast, the Kampala Art Biennale has been established to promote the African perspective on art and its context, as well as lesser-known art practitioners active within Africa.

Nonetheless, for artists, both events are good in that they promote art locally as well as internationally and allow for cross-pollination and launching international careers. Eria “Sane” Nsubuga, one of the finalists in this year’s biennale, commented to the Ugandan The Independent:

As Africans, we are still fragmented and weak to oppose anything and then start something of our own. We are like ants which have to cling onto someone to get onto the top of the mountain.

Samuel Githui, \Fahali Wawili', details [two bulls - west vs east on africa], diptych, 300 x 137 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Samuel Githui, \Fahali Wawili’, details [two bulls - west vs east on africa], diptych, 300 x 137 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Karungi defines the art scene in Kampala as having always been “very professional and creative”, thanks to the presence of the Margret Trowel School of Industrial and Fine Arts. However, he also comments that the scene has always been restricted “within the city and patrons of the arts have been visitors and residents of Kampala.” He goes on to say that other key cities like Dakar, Lagos and Johannesburg, on the other hand,

have engaged in global art exchange, have hosted international art events like biennales and promoted their art/artists to Europe and America to create international exposure.

The Biennale in Senegal, Dak’Art, is the oldest in Africa (founded 1992) and one of the most respected and important contemporary art events in the continent. The second oldest biennial event in Africa, the Johannesburg Biennale (founded in 1995), was very short-lived: its second and last edition, in 1997, was curated by the 2015 Venice Biennale artistic director, Okwui Enzewor. Lagos Biennial was founded in 2011 and has so far held two editions.

In North Africa, Morocco holds another seminal event, the Marrakech Biennale, founded by expatriate Vanessa Branson in 2004, which in just a decade has become an influential and internationally recognised event in the African continent.

Shenzo Shabangu, 'They took everything', 2012, Linocut LR, 602 x 900 cm, Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Shenzo Shabangu, ‘They took everything’, 2012, Linocut LR, 602 x 900cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

The future of Kampala Art Biennale

With the increasing interest in contemporary African art and the growth and development of the local art scenes in the continent, the Kampala Art Biennale is set to become another important nucleus for artistic dialogue, discussion and international exchange. Daudi Karungi says about the future of the Biennale:

My hope for Kampala Biennale is that it exposes this less known art from Africa to a global audience, it educates its mostly African visitors about the values of contemporary art and last, but not least I hope for the biennale to create debate about the challenges and successes of art/artists in Africa today.

Zerihun Seyoum, 'Adoption', 2013, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

Zerihun Seyoum, ‘Adoption’, 2013, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Kampala Art Biennale.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: African art and artists, curatorial practice, promoting art, art and the community, nonprofit, biennales, biennials, festivals, events in Africa

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Brand new world-class Aboriginal art festival announced in South Australia

The festival aims to make South Australia the international portal for Aboriginal visual art.

Entitled “Tarnanthi” (pronounced TAR-NAN-DEE), a local Kaurna word meaning ‘to come forth’, South Australia’s new high-end Aboriginal visual arts festival is scheduled to launch in October 2015. 

Tarnanthi Logo. Image courtesy the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Tarnanthi Logo. Image courtesy the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Premier Jay Weatherill announced last year that a new Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island visual arts festival will be held in 2015, supported by the State Government, the Art Gallery of South Australia and a AUD4 million (USD3.75 million) investment from principal sponsor BHP Billiton.

It was announced on 22 July 2014 that the festival will be known as “Tarnanthi“, which means to come forth, as in the sun and the first emergence of light, or of a seed sprouting. The event will be held in Adelaide in October 2015, led by curator and artist Nici Cumpston. Premier Weatherill also revealed that ‎Carclew Aboriginal arts development manager Lee-Ann Buckskin and former commissioner for Aboriginal engagement Klynton Wanganeen would co-chair the festival’s advisory committee.

Aboriginal art and South Australia

Announcing the event, Premier Weatherill said:

We have an ambitious goal of making South Australia the international portal for Aboriginal visual art [...] Tarnanthi will showcase contemporary works of art created by artists from the oldest continuous living culture on earth. The festival will include a series of exhibitions, artist workshops, a symposium and an art fair.

This builds on his announcement from last year, when he said that:

South Australia was a leader in the appreciation of Aboriginal art – we were the first to display work by an Aboriginal artist in a state art collection when in 1939 we acquired a work by Albert Namatjira. The South Australian Museum houses the biggest Aboriginal anthropological artefact collection. We want to strengthen our leadership in the appreciation of Aboriginal art by hosting a world-class festival.

Christian Thompson, 'Black Gum 2', 2008, Type C photograph on paper, ed. 7/10, 108 x 110 cm; 100 x 100 cm (comp.). Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery.

Christian Thompson, ‘Black Gum 2′, 2008, Type C photograph on paper, ed. 7/10, 108 x 110 cm; 100 x 100 cm (comp.). Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery.

A high-end, one-of-a-kind festival

Appointed to head the festival is the winner of this year’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Award and the Art Gallery’s first Aboriginal curator, Nici Cumpston. The Art Gallery will partner with cultural institutions across Adelaide to present the Festival, which will feature satellite exhibitions to ensure broad community engagement. In addition, respected Aboriginal community members with expertise in arts and community engagement across the entire country will provide advice to Taranthi.

Co-chairs Buckskin and Wanganeen revealed:

[The festival] will showcase the best work being created by highly respected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across the nation. It will challenge perceptions of what Aboriginal art is, and remind us all that this is a living culture with an art practice that is celebrated internationally.

The ambitious festival also hopes to boost the status of Aboriginal art as a high-end industry, and in doing so, directly benefit Aboriginal communities. Premier Weatherill said last year that:

Art is a significant contributor to the economy of Aboriginal communities [...] We want to strengthen the future of Aboriginal artwork in high-end arts.

Aboriginal art trends

This ambitious new venture comes at a time when many proclaim the future of Aboriginal art to be bleak, stifled by a state-supported Aboriginal culture system tailored for a Western audience.

As reports, after hitting a high of AUD26 million (USD24.4 million) in 2007, turnover in Indigenous Australian art plummeted half a year later to around AUD8 million (USD7.5 million) annually. With the collapse of the private-sector market, a new kind of state culture network replaced it, as The Australian revealed last year. The article comments that although such new state initiatives are well-funded and shielded from the pressures of the marketplace, resulting art-making trends are controlled and sanctioned:

Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.

Although such cultural production and consumption aims to save and preserve Aboriginal culture, many wonder if such aims are mainstream aims more than indigenous aims. As The Australian reports:

Far more people live off Aboriginal arts administration than off indigenous art-making today, and it has grown into a multiplicit business.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Australian artists, promoting art, festivals, events in Australia

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6 artists to know at the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale 2014

Art Radar profiles 6 artists who stretch the concept of sculpture beyond material objects.

The 8th edition of the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale runs at the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Nanshan until 31 August 2014. Art Radar investigates its curatorial concept of ‘social sculpture’ and profiles 6 exhibiting artists from Asia.

Li Ming, 'Nothing Happened Today 1-4' (still), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming, ‘Nothing Happened Today 1-4′ (still), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

The 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale is curated by Marko Daniel, Convenor of Public Programmes at London’s Tate Modern. Entitled “We Have Never Participated”, the Biennale explores ideas of participation, relationality, collaboration and public engagement.

Social sculpture

In the 1960s, Joseph Beuys’ notion of social sculpture expanded the concept of sculpture beyond material objects into social relations. The practice of ‘participatory art’ engages the audience in the creative process, making viewer interaction a vital component of the artwork and emphasising situations and encounters over material form. Such ideas see art as intrinsically bound to everyday life as well as social, economic and political processes.

Innovative and revolutionary at the time, participatory art has since become mainstream. The idea of ‘post-participation’ draws attention to the need for a re-examination of the ideological values of participation. The biennale’s title “We Have Never Participated” is a riff on Bruno Latour’s seminal book We Have Never Been Modern (1991), and the exhibition seeks to interrogate the romantic and seemingly innocent notions of collaboration and democracy in art and social movements.

Art Radar profiles six artists from Asia who are participating in the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial 2014.

Chen Shaoxiong, 'Ink Media' (stills), 2011-2013. Ink drawings, HD video, 3'56''. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Chen Shaoxiong, ‘Ink Media’ (stills), 2011-2013, ink drawings, HD video, 3min:56sec. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Chen Shaoxiong

Having grown up in China, Chen Shaoxiong (b. 1962, Guangdong, China) is no stranger to propaganda and censorship. As an artist, he is concerned with the paradox that even the most objective photographer cannot record events without in some way altering them. In Ink Media (2011-2013), Chen brings a new meaning to ‘editing’: he reproduced hundreds of internet photographs of street protests, mass demonstrations and global social movements in the form of ink paintings, which were then re-photographed and spliced together in the form of an animated film.

The resulting work is a shrewd study of the social dynamics of crowd behaviour, the politics of participation and the impact of mass media imagery on collective memory and public opinion. As the exhibition’s catalogue (PDF download) states:

Complemented by a powerful soundtrack, the piece can be viewed as a rousing tribute to the power of social media and online activism, or conversely, as a cautionary statement on the mass media’s spectacularisation of collective forms of resistance.

Meiro Koizumi, 'Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon' (stills), 2010-2011, two-channel HD video, 10'30". Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Meiro Koizumi, ‘Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon’ (stills), 2010-2011, two-channel HD video, 10min:30sec. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Meiro Koizumi

Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi (b. 1976, Gunma, Japan) works with choreographed emotional manipulations that reveal behavioural patterns and the politics of power dynamics and inter-relationships. In the case of Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon (2010-2011), filmed in the Tokyo metro system, Koizumi’s study becomes one of non-participation.

The film begins with an interior view of a metro carriage hurtling through the city. A commuter who has fallen asleep begins to talk to himself, asking questions that gradually become louder and more existential. Eventually, he succeeds in shattering the silence of his fellow commuters and the neutral space of the carriage. Koizumi described the process of filming as follows:

When he was just sobbing, people didn’t respond to him at all. They are so used to ignoring such behaviour. So I asked him to perform again and again. Every time, I asked him to cry louder and louder. At the eighth take, when I asked him to just scream at [the] top of his voice, we finally managed to shatter people’s masks.

Li Ming, 'Nothing Happened Today 1-4' (installation view), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming, ‘Nothing Happened Today 1-4′ (installation view), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming

Artist and curator Li Ming (b. 1986, Hunan, China) produces experimental works that straddle the boundary between performance and video. Nothing Happened Today 1-4 (2012) is a series of four video works that exposes the paradoxical status of the ‘non-event’.

In the videos, the artist takes to the streets on a van and skirts the shoreline of a lake in a small motorboat. In both, he shouts the phrase ‘今天无事发生’ (‘nothing happened today’) through a megaphone to baffled pedestrians. In one video, the artist literally takes the work to new heights by printing the statement on a small electric dirigible that floated in China’s sky.

Ahmet Öğüt, 'The Silent University', 2012, resource room, documentation, performance. Image courtesy Ahmet Öğüt and OCAT.

Ahmet Öğüt, ‘The Silent University’, 2012, resource room, documentation, performance. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Ahmet Öğüt 

Ahmet Öğüt (b. 1981, Diyarbakir, Turkey) is a conceptual artist working in Amsterdam and Istanbul. He has gained international acclaim for an extensive body of work that makes subtle references to complex social issues.

In 2012, Öğüt initiated a project called The Silent University, a knowledge exchange platform by and for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. The platform is led by a group of lecturers, consultants and research fellows who are unable to use their skills or professional training in their own countries due to a variety of legal impediments. Originally presented in the form of an academic programme, here the project is presented through an installation of its research room.

Yao Jui-Chung & Lost Society Document, 'Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan' (installation view), 2010-ongoing, photographs, installation, video. Image courtesy the artists and OCAT.

Yao Jui-Chung & Lost Society Document, ‘Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan’ (installation view), 2010-ongoing, photographs, installation, video. Image courtesy the artists and OCAT.

Yao Jui-Chung 

Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung (b. 1969, Taipei) was teaching at the Taipei National University of the Arts and the National Taiwan Normal University when he initiated Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan (2010-ongoing). Together with more than fifty students at the two universities, Yao conducted a Taiwan-wide survey of ‘mosquito halls’, a name given to empty buildings and abandoned public construction projects inhabited only by insects.

The project started out as an assignment for a semester, but quickly developed into an ongoing, large-scale artwork investigating government corruption and negligence. Over 300 cases of mosquito halls have been documented in black and white photos and written reportage to date, and three volumes of Mirage – Disused Public Property have been compiled and published as evidence of misguided government policy. As the exhibition’s catalogue states:

The significance and value of this ‘participation’ lie in the fact that it is both a collective action by Yao Jui-Chung and his students, and in that it used artistic methods to hold up a social issue to scrutiny and raise public awareness of this issue.

Cao Fei, 'Haze and Fog', 2013. Still from the film courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei, ‘Haze and Fog’, 2013, still from the film. Image courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei 

Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou) is well known for her multimedia installations and videos that mix social commentary, popular aesthetics, references to Surrealism and documentary conventions.

Haze and Fog (2013) is a dystopian zombie movie set in an anonymous modern mega-city. Under the haze of polluted skies, the paths of bored residents and workers barely intersect despite their mutual social dependency. In what she calls these ‘magical metropolises’, contemporary human existence takes on a surreal atmosphere that is tedious, absurd and as bleak as it is luxurious. She said in an interview:

My film examines people up-close, slowly and in detail, zooming into the international, modern cells of people who moved from traditional housing areas, and new immigrants [...] who have left tradition behind and entered into this new fog of neutral modernity in their housing cells [...] this group of people also created a support structure, such as cleaners, babysitters and security staff who service these cells. Altogether these societal roles shape a special circle of society that I am focusing on.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Chinese artists, Japanese artists, Taiwanese artists, Turkish artists, sculpture, video art, art and the community, biennales, profiles, events in Guangzhou, lists

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ARTLINKART – Chinese art resource alert

Art Radar explores ARTLINKART, one of the largest, most comprehensive and interactive Chinese contemporary art databases currently in operation.

ARTLINKART is an online database project for Chinese contemporary art. Bilingual, interactive and updated daily, the website is an invaluable resource for art professionals, investors, students and art enthusiasts.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART homepage. Image by Art Radar.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART homepage. Image by Art Radar.


Launched in May 2009, ARTLINKART is a bilingual online database for Chinese contemporary art. To date, the database has archived over 29,600 artists, 24,500 exhibitions and 1,750 art spaces in China. Describing itself as a basic information register for everything from academic study to investment reference and other professional purposes, ARTLINKART summarises its objective as follows:

ARTLINKART is targeting on archiving the complete Chinese contemporary art history more accurately and subjectively.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART website. Image by Art Radar.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART website. Image by Art Radar.

An ever-expanding database

ARTLINKART is updated daily as administrators process submissions of information, photographs and artist profiles, and the promised auditing time is around 48 hours. Anyone can contribute, whether they are gallerists, artists or simply art lovers.

Artists, curators and critics have the additional option of setting up a personal art profile, which is also added to the extensive database and network of art-related persons. Meanwhile, gallerists have the option of submitting information for entire exhibitions, big or small.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART website. Image by Art Radar.

Screenshot of ARTLINKART website. Image by Art Radar.

During submission, critical information is filled out in specific categories, such as title, dates, venue, organisers, sponsors, curators, artists and so on, to enable easy searching once the information is uploaded.

The resulting database is searchable and sortable through a large variety of parameters, including date, type and geography for exhibitions. Artists and curators are divided by geography, type of work and whether they are currently exhibiting.

An interactive community

Once an event is listed on the database, art lovers and fans can submit on-scene photos of exhibitions, which serve to enrich the event’s online profile. This interactive element likens the website to a community where everyone can play a part in contributing to the ever-expanding archive of art-related information.

With or without art

A sister site to ARTLINKART is entitled, which stands for ‘with or without art’. Also updated daily, the site presents itself as a powerful newsfeed that pulls together data from a large pool of global art information providers.

Screenshot of Image by Art Radar

Screenshot of Image by Art Radar.

Partners are diverse and wide-ranging, including e-flux, Rhizome, ArtAsiaPacific, Artagenda, Yishu-online as well as The Guardian. As the articles appear, they are accompanied by a time-stamp that reveals when the article was originally published.

Art that is free for all

To date, ARTLINKART and remain free databases, accessible to all art lovers. Certain parts of both websites remain under construction, but a massive amount of data has already been collected. It seems that the current focus is to continue to gain a critical mass of users, partners and information. Whether a user fee will be introduced in the future remains to be seen.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Chinese artistsart and the internet, art resources, websites on art, events in China

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Weekly jobs and opportunities | The Met Museum Associate Curator, Art management courses

Looking for new career options in the arts? Art Radar Opportunities is a convenient archive of openings in the visual art world.

Every week we add new positions suitable for a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience. Whether you’re an artist or an aspiring curator, a market analyst or a scholar, Art Radar Opportunities has listings that’ll pique your interest.


Reader offer! We’re offering free job listings to all of our readers. If you’d like to advertise your opportunity to 20,000 visitors a month, contact our page coordinator on with “codeopportunities” in the subject line.


New this week!


OPEN CALL New York | 2014 International Art Festival | apply by 18 August 2014

The 2014 International Art Festival, a juried art competition that aims to identify, recognise and promote outstanding contemporary artists, has officially launched its open call. MORE HERE


JOB New York | Associate Curator | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | apply by 12 September 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the world’s best-known museums, seeks an Associate Curator who will be a specialist in twentieth- and twenty-first century art of the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. MORE HERE


COURSE London | Documentary Filmmaking | Inovi | apply by 20 September 2014

The Documentary Filmmaking course is a practical and rigorous workshop on producing documentaries for TV, theatrical and multi-platform space. MORE HERE

Did you know that Art Radar runs its very own online art writing course? Click here to find out more about Art Radar‘s Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.


COURSE Singapore | MA in Arts and Cultural Management | LASALLE College of the Arts | apply by 15 October 2014

LASALLE College of the Arts is offering an MA in Arts and Cultural Management that will equip students to enhance their skills, reflect on areas such as management and policy, and be advocates of the arts. MORE HERE

Did you know that Art Radar runs its very own online art writing course? Click here to find out more about Art Radar‘s Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.


COURSE Paris | MBA in Arts and Cultural Management | IESA and PSB | apply by unspecified

The Instituts d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts (IESA) and Paris School of Business (PSB) in Paris are offering an MBA in Arts and Cultural Management, designed to train future managers of arts and cultural institutions, and future entrepreneurs in the cultural industries. MORE HERE

Did you know that Art Radar runs its very own online art writing course? Click here to find out more about Art Radar‘s Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.


Looking for more opportunities in the contemporary art world? For Art Radar’s complete list of jobs, internships, residencies, courses and open calls, click here.


Closing this week!


JOB New Delhi | Content Manager | Artsome – apply by 31 July 2014

Artsome, an online resource for modern and contemporary art in the Indian Subcontinent, is looking for a Content Manager. MORE HERE


INTERNSHIP Washington D.C. | Curatorial Interns | The Phillips Collection - apply by 31 July 2014

The Phillips Collection, a private institution dedicated to modern and contemporary art, is looking for curatorial interns as part of their Fall 2014 internship programme. MORE HERE


INTERNSHIP United Kingdom | Arts Management Intern | City Arts – apply by 1 August 2014

With the support from Creative Employment Programme, City Arts in Nottingham is seeking to recruit one full-time paid intern (six-month placement) to join their team. MORE HERE


INTERNSHIP London | Arts Education Intern | Bigfoot Arts Education – apply by 5 August 2014

Bigfoot Arts Education, the UK’s largest provider of creative, educational workshops in schools is currently looking to recruit an Arts Education Intern. MORE HERE


This is just a sample of art world jobs we gather each week. If you’d like to see more, click here to sign up for more information on how to get full access and feeds of jobs, internships, open calls, courses and other opportunities for art professionals.