“BODY/PLAY/POLITICS”: Asian and African artists at Yokohama Museum of Art

African and Asian artists explore notions of “the body” at the Yokohama Museum of Art.

Launched on 1 October 2016, “BODY/PLAY/POLITICS” presents the work of six artists from Asia and Africa, including British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE, Malaysian Yee I-Lann, Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Vietnam’s UuDam Tran Nguyen, and Japan’s Ishikawa Ryuichi and Tamura Yuichiro.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, (left) 'Addio del Passato', 2011, single channel video, (right) 'Ibeji (Twins) Riding a Butterfly', 2015, fibreglass, dutch wax printed cotton textile, fur, leather and globes, installation view. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, (left) ‘Addio del Passato’, 2011, single channel video, (right) ‘Ibeji (Twins) Riding a Butterfly’, 2015, fibreglass, dutch wax printed cotton textile, fur, leather and globes, installation view. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

As a site of exploration, as much as it is a site of tension, the body – individual, human, but also collective and collectively shaped – is the focus for a range of artistic interpretations at the Yokohama Museum of Art. Showcasing the works of six artists from the United Kingdom and Nigeria, Japan and Southeast Asia, “BODY/PLAY/POLITICS” considers the ways in which bodies are coded: which bodies count, and how are these bodies marked by external forces such as race, class, nation and gender?

UuDam Tran Nguyen, 'Serpents’ Tails', 2015. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Image courtesy the artist.

UuDam Tran Nguyen, ‘Serpents’ Tails’, 2015. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Image courtesy the artist.

The works in this exhibition incorporate new media, mostly film and photography but also installation, in an effort to transmit the idea of embodiment for the viewer: how each body’s experience of the world is a form of world-making itself. Through these mediated attempts, the exhibition invites the viewer to imagine for herself what it is like to be in these distinct bodies.

Ishikawa Ryuichi, 'Guppy', 2011-2016, ink jet print, working scene in the gallery. © Ryuichi Ishikawa. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Ishikawa Ryuichi, ‘Guppy’, 2011-2016, ink jet print, working scene in the gallery. © Ryuichi Ishikawa. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

The exhibition runs until 14 December 2016 and is accompanied by a partner project by the Yokohama Dance Collection, featuring Damien Jalet, Nawa Kohei, Tada Junnosuke and Eisa Jocson, from 26 January to 19 February 2017.

Art Radar profiles the six artists who are featured in “BODY/PLAY/POLITICS”.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, 'Addio del Passato', 2011. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, ‘Addio del Passato’, 2011. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

1. Yinka Shonibare MBE

Yinka Shonibare’s work addresses the history of colonialism and racism through interventions in the canon of European culture and cultural history. This exhibition features his film Addio del Passato (2011), in which Frances Nisbet, the estranged wife of Lord Nelson, mournfully sings the final aria as Violetta from Verdi’s opera La Traviata. Here, however, Shonibare features Nadine Benjamin, a Black British soprano, playing the role of Nisbet (and Violetta).

Dressed in the colourful robes of Dutch wax fabric – a printed cotton that was inspired by designs from Indonesia, then produced by the Dutch and sold to colonies in West Africa – Benjamin disrupts the Eurocentric narrative and brings to relief the colonial legacies underlying British and European control. Here, the body of the black woman, who is coded as colonial subject both by her skin and her garments, stands as testament to the empire’s reliance on the economic ties formed by the slave trade and colonial rule.

 Yinka Shonibare MBE, 'Addio del Passato', 2011. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, ‘Addio del Passato’, 2011. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE was born in London to Nigerian parents and immigrated to Lagos at a young age. Shonibare returned to England to study art at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now Central Saint Martins College) and then at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA. He was a 2004 nominee of the Turner Prize, and has exhibited at Documenta 11 in 2002, where he was commissioned by Okwui Enwezor.

He has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Brooklyn Museum and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian, which housed his mid-career survey exhibition in 2009-2010. His works are included in the collections of the Tate, Victoria and Albert Museu, the Museum of Modern Art New York and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.

Yee I-Lann, 'Santai', 2016. © Yee I-Lann

Yee I-Lann, ‘Santai’, 2016. © Yee I-Lann

2. Yee I-Lann

The ghostly presence of Pontianak, alternately known as Kuntilanak in Indonesia, Nang Tani in Thailand and Cambodia and Aswang in the Phillippines, is the subject of Malaysian born Yee I-Lann’s photographic and video work. Shrouded by her long disheveled hair, Pontianak is a spectre of femininity in Southeast Asian folklore, whose presence signifies revenge of the female sex against crimes of men, including rape, torture, and so on, or invokes the spirit of a mother who died during childbirth.

In her photographic series Imagining Pontianak: I’ve Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day (2016), Lann presents a contemporary portrayal of the Pontianak myth to elicit commentary on the challenges related to childbirth, sex and other social pressures that women face daily in Southeast Asia. In Yee’s work, the feminine body is marked both by its biological functions as well as the social and cultural norms that regulate it.

Yee I-Lann, 'Imagining Pontianak: I’ve Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day', 2016, three-channel video installation, installation view. © Yee I-Lann. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Yee I-Lann, ‘Imagining Pontianak: I’ve Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day’, 2016, three-channel video installation, installation view. © Yee I-Lann. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Yee I-Lann was born in Sabah, Malaysia in 1971 and currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur. She graduated from the University of South Australia, where she studied photography and cinematography. In 2015, she was in residency at the Center of Contemporary Art in Singapore and she has had exhibitions such as “Picturing Power” at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York (2014) and was part of “The Roving Eye: Contemporary Art from South East Asia” curated by Iola Lenzi at ARTER, Istanbul (2014). She also works in the film industry, and has been involved in set design and production for the UK series Indian Summers.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 'Fireworks (Fans)', 2016. Image courtesy Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, ‘Fireworks (Fans)’, 2016. Image courtesy Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

3. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s video series Fireworks emerges from the political and social tensions that characterise his native northeast Thailand. The series was begun in 2014, with a video that catalogues the animal sculptures in a temple near where Apichatpong grew up. Fireworks (Fans) (2016), co-produced by the Biennale of Sydney 2016, takes place in an empty exhibition space in which the pyrotechnics of destroying ordinary household objects take on the air of ritual. The people who set these fans and books ablaze are eclipsed by the massive fireballs they create, hinting at the body’s diminutive presence against the larger forces of nature.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 'Fireworks (Fans)', 2016, single channel video installation, installation view. Courtesy of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, ‘Fireworks (Fans)’, 2016, single channel video installation, installation view. Courtesy of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an independent film director, screenwriter and film producer from Thailand whose films address nature, sexuality and dream states. His films Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2004) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) have won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, and his most recent 2015 work Cemetery of Splendour was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

UuDam Tran Nguyen, 'Serpents’ Tails', 2015/2016, three-channel video and installation (motorcycles, colour plastic, PVC tubes, steel tubes), installation view. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

UuDam Tran Nguyen, ‘Serpents’ Tails’, 2015/2016, three-channel video and installation (motorcycles, colour plastic, PVC tubes, steel tubes), installation view. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Yuri Manabe. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

4. UuDam Tran Nguyen

The possibility of motion and movement are the crux of UuDam Tran Nguyen’s Serpents’ Tails (2015), a three-channel video that depicts motorcyclists roving around the crowded traffic of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam equipped with colourful inflatable balloons. Shocked by the massive congestion that he witnessed after moving back to Ho Chi Minh City from Los Angeles, a city with its own noted traffic problems, Nguyen imagines the motorcycle drivers in his video as choreographed performers, flitting in and out of the city’s beating heart. Here, the balloons draw attention, through their visible movements, to the idea of an urban centre as an organic mass, beating and pulsing with life.

UuDam Tran Nguyen, 'Serpents’ Tails', 2015. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Image courtesy the artist.

UuDam Tran Nguyen, ‘Serpents’ Tails’, 2015. © UuDam Tran Nguyen. Image courtesy the artist.

UuDam Tran Nguyen studied sculpture at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art University, and then followed with a Bachelor of Art at UCLA and an MFA at the School of Visual Art in New York. His work, which ranges from performance and photography to sculpture and new media, has been exhibited at Whitechapel Gallery, London, the Jewish Museum, New York, RISD Museum in Rhode Island, and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. He is the co-founder of the experimental art magazine XEM and lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Ishikawa Ryuichi, 'Harajuku', 2016. ©Ryuichi Ishikawa

Ishikawa Ryuichi, ‘Harajuku’, 2016. ©Ryuichi Ishikawa

5. Ishikawa Ryuichi

Ishikawa Ryuichi’s photographs attempt to catalogue contemporary Japan from as many angles as possible to capture the range of lives and experiences that comprise the nation. For the exhibition, Ishikawa’s images present two swaths of lived experience, that of a colourfully dressed young Harajuku woman, and the wrinkled skin of a woman’s hand in Urasoe, the Hand of Guppy (2016).

The difference between the two images – youth and old age – is striking, but more striking is their connection. The wrinkled hand is adorned with a bracelet, its fingernails shellacked with chipped red and blue polish. The young woman, dressed in red, blue and yellow tulle, with bright sneakers, is too defined by the accouterments of performed femininity. Despite the difference in age, the photographs show an understanding of artifice as intimately connected to a body in public.

Ishikawa Ryuichi, 'Urasoe, The Hand of Guppy', 2016. © Ryuichi Ishikawa

Ishikawa Ryuichi, ‘Urasoe, The Hand of Guppy’, 2016. © Ryuichi Ishikawa

Born in Okinawa prefecture in 1984, Ishikawa Ryuichi studied photography at Okinawa International University, where he graduated in 2006. He went on to study avant-garde dance with Seiryu Shiba and continued photography studies with Tetsushi Yuzaki and the 3rd Shomei Digital Photography Workshop. His solo exhibitions include “Mei” at Gallery oMac (2010), and “A Grand Polyphony” (2014) at Nikon Salon. He is the recipient of the 2012 35th New Cosmos of Photography competition.

Tamura Yuichiro, from 'Milky Bay', 2016. © Tamura Yuichiro

Tamura Yuichiro, from ‘Milky Bay’, 2016. © Tamura Yuichiro

6. Tamura Yuichiro

Tamura Yuichiro looks to the past in his new video installation Milky Bay (2016), where he studies the history of modern bodybuilding by examining early 20th century photographs from Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture. Tamura examines the spread of bodybuilding from Eastern Europe to America and then eventually to Yokohama under Allied occupation during WWII. In his video, this history is narrated by a fictional voice, lending an air of mythical storytelling to a once-hidden history.

Tamura Yuichiro, 'Milky Bay', 2016, installation, installation view. Photo: Tamura Yuichiro.

Tamura Yuichiro, ‘Milky Bay’, 2016, installation, installation view. Photo: Tamura Yuichiro.

Tamura Yuichiro was born in 1977 in Toyama Japan, and lives and works in Atami. He gained recognition in 2010 for his film Nightless, which was composed of images from Google Street View. He holds a PhD in Film and New Media from the Tokyo University of Arts, where he graduated in 2010. In 2013, he exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong with his solo show “NIGHTLESS/Last Signing Room”. He was in residency at the Pola Art Foundation in Berlin in 2014 and the recipient of the 2013 Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artists at the Institut fur Raumexperimente in Berlin and University of the Arts, London.

Tausif Noor

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Related Topics: Nigerian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Malaysian, Thai, body, photography, museum showsJapan events

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