Art in troubled placesART AND THE INTERNET RADIO ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART
AIR, or Art International Radio, is a listener-sponsored New York State-based non-profit corporation that offers a diverse range of online radio programmes on contemporary art that you can listen to anywhere, any time. Tune in with Art Radar to one of their latest series, Dialogues in Asian Contemporary Art.
‘Dialogues in Asian Contemporary Art’ is made up of 32 podcasts. We could not, of course, include all of them, however in order to demonstrate the diversity of the series, we’ve selected six to profile below.
Jungjin Li’s reaction to the American desert
In this podcast, art critic and historian Vicki Goldberg interviews Korean artist Jungjin Lee. Lee was an assistant to photographer Robert Frank and practised street photography in New York City before she found inspiration in the American desert. In the interview, Lee describes her first reaction upon coming before this vast desolate landscape:
I felt the power of nature, and I didn’t know what to do with my camera. I wished I could be a poet or a dancer, I could be somebody else… But in a way it was good to [be challenged], when I don’t have any idea what I can do there.
How can one contain within a frame what is expansive and limitless? The desire to capture the essence of the desert compelled Lee to return again and again. Her training in Korean art and her experience in meditation proved helpful. Meditation “cleaned my head,” says the artist, so that she could “see the essence of what [the desert] is about, not just how it looks.”
About Jungjin Lee
Lee was born in Korea where she learnt Korean art and calligraphy. She majored in ceramics in university and became a photojournalist for a top Korean magazine. She then travelled to America where she obtained an MA in photography at New York University. Her works have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.
Ai Weiwei describes his challenges
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei requires little introduction. This podcast features excerpts from a Skype conversation between Ai, Lucinda Barnes from Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) and The San Francisco Chronicle’s Kenneth Baker, recorded at Haines Gallery, San Francisco.
In this podcast, Ai says that making something happen and making an effort to reach other minds through communication is a consistent challenge. “My work [is] changing all the time because I am learning from … daily events,” says the artist, whose works are often critical commentaries of social and political realities. “I don’t see myself as a person who knows what exactly he is doing but rather to try to hold on, to not easily give up on those situations.” He sees the role of artists as “vehicles”, to carry and pass on messages and possibilities.
In fact, his vocal criticism of the Chinese government is perhaps the main factor leading to his recent detention by Chinese authorities. The arrest has spurred demonstrations in support of the artist worldwide and Art Radar was at the protest event held on the streets of Hong Kong on 10 April 2011. Click here to read (and watch) our report and stay tuned for more on Hong Kong activist activities.
Art as activism
In this special podcasted symposium featuring contemporary Asian women artists, Karin Chien, a film producer working in New York, Chang-Jin Lee, a Korean-born conceptual artist living in New York City and Amita Swadhin, coordinator of theatre project “Secret Survivors” for child sex abuse victims, discuss the relationship between the arts and activism.
All artists are activists in the sense that they choose someone’s story to tell and that they choose how they tell it. Chang-Jin Lee chose to highlight the story of the fate suffered by no less than 200,000 Asian women during World War II, who were systematically exploited by Japanese soldiers as sex slaves in “comfort stations”, raped as many as fifty times a day, tortured and killed. The memory of this single largest case of human trafficking in the 21st century has faded into the background and the voices of its survivors silenced.
Lee is insistent that history should not be forgotten. “I want to honour their courage,” she explains. For the work, she made ad-like billboards with the headlines “COMFORT WOMEN WANTED”, making reference to the actual text of advertisement used in newspapers during the war. These were accompanied by photos of comfort women and audio recordings of interviews with survivors. Says Lee in the podcast,
When I started this project I thought I should look for pictures when they were young, around the time of enslavement, to make this history alive and also to remind people they were just young girls.
The photograph of the young woman shown in this billboard is that of an eighteen-year-old Taiwanese; it was taken by a Japanese soldier during her enslavement. “There is just so much uncertainty and fear in her face, and I thought this picture really represents what these women were going through at the time.”
Looking back with Monir Farmmanfarmaian
The life story of Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian is a tale of transportation between two worlds. Born in Iran, Farmanfarmaian left for New York City in 1946, where she graduated from the Parsons School of Design and Cornell University. She returned to Iran in the 1960s, but went back to America again after the Islamic Revolution broke out. She returned home again in 2000, where she now lives and works.
In this podcasted interview with Melissa Chiu, director and curator at Asia Society, the winner of the 1958 Venice Biennale Gold Medal shares her childhood memories. The house in Tehran where her family moved into when she was seven had provided inspiration that was to inform her art throughout her career:
My memory from that house was flowers and birds and nightingales and all these things… They used to make us to go and have a nap in the afternoon in summer time. I would not sleep, but I would count how many birds [are] in the ceiling, how many flowers [there] are this way and how many [there are] that way. So I was very busy with the decoration of the roof [rather] than having a nap… I suppose I was inspired.
Vernacular architectural forms in the Iranian tradition also influence Farmanfarmaian’s preoccupation with Islamic geometry and her choice of medium – the classical craft of reverse glass and mirror mosaics. To Juliet Cestar of Nafas Art Magazine, this exquisite technique reflects the artist’s own life history.
The mirror mosaics reflect many fragments of the world around them, assembling a constructed identity, a life composed of memories, individually disjointed, but beautiful in their overall effect, held in balance by the act of composition. Monir’s compositions, while externally bound and limited, open inwardly to the infinite, underlining the timeless and infinite quality of Islamic geometric concepts.
Jihad Pop and personal journeys
The two interviewees in this podcast differ in age by almost forty years and come from two neighbouring countries that have long been in conflict with each other: Zarina Hashmi was born in India in 1937, Seher Shah in Pakistan in 1975.
Hashmi speaks slowly about past episodes of her life, of personal journeys and travels around the subcontinent with her sister, of railway stations and cities visited. Her art is characterised by the personal, evoking sentiments about home, journey, and memory.
The younger Shah, on the other hand, talks with enthusiasm about one of her new works with an unconventional title, Jihad Pop. She talks about finding her own voice in reinterpreting a concept that has become highly politicised:
The word ‘jihad’ had been taken by the media in a very negative way.… What I really wanted to do in my own way was to reclaim it for myself. It wasn’t meant to be political.… I find myself that work is really about self questioning and self analysing.
It was about reclaiming that word for myself and making it personal and making it almost autobiographical,… about where I have lived, the different intersection points, in a way, making it non-political. It is a personal work.
Art in troubled places
The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia often appear in newspaper headlines, but for political troubles rather than for their growing art scenes. The participants in this podcasted interview, Savita Apte, Chair of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, and curators Leeza Ahmady and Carol Solomon, discuss how the expanding art market has affected cultural expectations.
Improvement in technology in these countries has made local artists much more visible and accessible to an international audience. As one participant observes, museum acquisition of art from “troubled places” has increased spectacularly in recent years. The provocative question, then, is whether there is genuine interest in the work of artists from these regions, or whether the relatively low prices of their works make it expedient to promote them from a commercial point of view.
While in some countries the dominating role of the auction houses has indeed turned the local art scene into a “market” before it ever became an “artworld”, the speakers agree that there has been a genuine increase in interest in and demand for art from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The challenge then, it seems, is for local artists to negotiate and make use of the opportunities brought to them by all the new attention.
More podcasts from ART on AIR
The “Dialogues in Asian Contemporary Art” series consist of over thirty podcasts, all available online. In addition to the topics discussed here, visit the website and treat yourself to informative talks about Cantonese contemporary art in Hong Kong, rising stars in the Japanese art market, and innovative photography and video art, among many others.
- Emerging contemporary art markets for 2011 revealed as ArtInsight seminar – April 2011 – be on the lookout for rising artists from Russia, Africa and Brazil
- Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian collected by the Met – January 2011 – acquisition of the works of the Iranian artist made by the Met
- Five emerging artists from the Middle East – August 2008 – showcased by Saatchi Online magazine
- Global recognition for Korean contemporary art? Not quite – December 2010 – more global networking needed to make Korean contemporary art known internationally
- Women emerge onto the Beijing art scene – International Herald Tribune – August 2008 – read more about the position of woman artists in contemporary Asian art