Strength in numbers: 4 Southeast Asian art groups



One is a lonely number, so Art Radar takes a look at artists working collectively in four countries in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines have unique histories and cultures, yet each of these countries is home to several artists who fervently believe that there is strength in numbers. Art Radar takes a look at four collective artist groups in Southeast Asia.

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Southeast Asia is home to several art groups who choose to engage with the region’s issues and art scenes collectively.

The history of modern and contemporary art around the world abounds with artists who worked collectively: the Dadaists, CoBrA, Fluxus, the Guerrilla Girls, the Stars (in China) and Raqs Media Collective, to name but a few.

The motivations for such group formations range from the purely aesthetic (Fluxus) to the desire for social change (Guerrilla Girls) or political exigency (the Stars). SocialArt lists a few artists collectives working for social change, and the New York Times provides a roundup of collectives operating in the early twenty-first century.

Right now in Southeast Asia, several artists are working together in groups. Art Radar takes a look at artist groups in the following four countries: Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. What unites the four artist groups is the perception of a lack of artistic and exhibition opportunities in their countries, and the overwhelming desire to change the status quo.

Storefront of HONF in Indonesia. Image courtesy House of Natural Fibre.

Storefront of HONF in Indonesia. Image courtesy House of Natural Fibre.

The House of Natural Fibre (Indonesia)

The House of Natural Fibre (HONF), a media-art laboratory founded in 1999, is operated as an open community in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. HONF started off as a group of young artists who wished to work together free from anxieties about commercial pursuits.

HONF’s cross-collaborative work focuses on art, science and technology and how to apply these diverse methodologies to daily life. The founders include interior designer Venzha, fashion designer Irene “Ira” Agrivina, graphic designer and comic artist Istasius “Itaz” and Tommy “imot” Surya, a videographer involved in web projects.

HONF created the Education Focus Programme (EFP), which sets a curriculum for HONF activities and projects. According to their website, the “EFP concentrates on interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges in critical analysis towards local and global issues, and creating innovative ideas to seek solutions toward them.”

To uphold its mission, HONF also organises various cross-cultural events, which are held annually, such as Cellsbutton, Yogyakarta International Media Art Festival, and YIVF, Yogyakarta International Videowork Festival.

Vietnam's Propeller Group, 'Temporary Public Gallery', 2010, billboard. Image courtesy the artists.

Vietnam’s Propeller Group, ‘Temporary Public Gallery’, 2010, billboard. Image courtesy the artists.

The Propeller Group (Vietnam)

The Propeller Group (founded 2006) engages with Communism through collective cross-disciplinary art projects. The three artists who constitute the Propeller Group – Phunam, Matt Lucero, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen – have backgrounds in visual art, film, and video, and work in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Los Angeles, California.

As a collective, they have shown widely, from the Guangzhou Triennial to museums such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Singapore Art Museum.

From 12 September to 26 October 2013, The Propeller Group had their first North American solo show, held at Lombard Freid Gallery in New York City. Titled “Lived, Lives, Will Live!” after a famous Leninist slogan, the exhibition examines the Communist leader’s legacy in Vietnam and beyond. The group’s paintings, photographs and sculptures explore politics, collective histories and celebrity culture while looking at Lenin through a hyper-consumerist lens. In one series of works, conventional portraits of Lenin are hand-embroidered and embellished with the hairstyles of Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, who is slated to portray the leader in an upcoming film.

Lombard Freid’s press release draws attention to the group’s examination of consumerism in a putatively Communist environment, and their methodology of fusing seemingly opposed forces.

The Propeller Group (TPG) uses mass media as a platform to combine seemingly contradictory phenomena: advertising and politics, history and future, and public and private. TPG often pushes their work back into the public sphere, using commodities as a form of public art. As an integral part of their practice, TPG has cultivated the guise of an advertising agency—a public relations firm that confuses the brand and the brand message.

Vandy Rattana, Untitled, from Fire of the Year series, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

Vandy Rattana, Untitled, from Fire of the Year series, 2008. Image courtesy the artist.

Stiev Selapak (Cambodia)

Stiev Selapak (Art Rebels) was founded in 2007 in Phnom Penh by six artists and photographers working in diverse mediums: Heng RavuthKhvay Samnang, Kong Vollak, Lim SokchanlinaVandy Rattana, and Vuth Lyno. As one of the first art groups in Cambodia, Stieve Selapak aims to strengthen the local art scene, sharing knowledge and resources with each other in order to create art.

In 2009, the Art Rebels opened Sa Sa Art Gallery, a small exhibition space for emerging artists. After merging with Bassac Art Projects the space became SA SA BASSAC, a gallery and resource centre geared towards the promotion and creation of Cambodia’s visual arts. The Art Rebels established Sa Sa Art Projects in 2010, to help young emerging artists experiment and to provide residencies for artists.

98B in Manila. Image courtesy 98B.

98B Collaboratory space in Manila. Image courtesy 98B.

98B Collaboratory (the Philippines)

Founded in Manila in January 2012, 98B Collaboratory is an artist collective comprising artists Mark Salvatus, Mayumi Hirano, Con Cabrera, Pau Reyes, Mik Laborde, Don Dalmacio, Vermont Coronel III, Gabriel Villegas, Marika Constantino and Anjo Bolarda.

98B runs numerous programmes and platforms encompassing talks, community project presentations and forums, an artist residency exchange programme, a free and open-to-all library filled with art-related materials, and a digital library with the collection digitised for online use. Design and Community is the group’s exchange platform for artists, designers, architects and the local community while the Design Studio supports 98B financially by providing professional graphic and web design to clients.

In an interview with Art Radar, Mark Salvatus explains the concept behind 98B:

It started as a gathering. The idea was to have a place where artists can hold different types of events, be it a talk, a bazaar or a simple dinner. In short, I opened up my studio to weekly events and possible collaborations. This is why we also have the COLLABoratory or a laboratory/space to work together.

Click here to read the full interview with Mark Salvatus, in which he talks about his individual practice as well as his collaborative projects.

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, political art, artist-curators, Indonesian art, Vietnamese art, Khmer art, Philippines art, group and movements

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