“Home Thoughts from Abroad”: three emerging artists at Adelaide Fringe Festival 2017

Held at the artist run initiative Praxis ARTSPACE, the exhibition showcases video, painting and installation from three Australia-based artists.

Art Radar takes a closer look at the work of Badiucao, Elyas Alvai and Aida Azin.

Aida Azin, 'Ikat blanket', 2016, acrylic on board. Image courtesy the artist.

Aida Azin, ‘Ikat blanket’, 2016, acrylic on board. Image courtesy the artist.

From 23 February to 6 April 2017, Praxis ARTSPACE presents “Home Thoughts from Abroad”, an exhibition showcasing Badiucao, Elyas Alvai and Aida Azin and presented as part of Adelaide Fringe Festival. The artists work across video, painting and installation in order to explore relationships between memory, lived experience and activism.

The pieces challenge current political and social constructs. Curator Joanna Kitto explains the need for such an exhibition in the current political climate:

Recent national and global events have highlighted something we seem to have collectively forgotten – that one of the most radical and urgent acts is that of listening…”Home Thoughts from Abroad” seeks to mobilise new ways of understanding global issues, and how they directly affect those around us.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

In the exhibition the artists investigate political and cultural issues in their homelands. Elyas Alavi was born in Afghanistan and then moved to Iran and later to Australia as a refugee, while Aida Azin is a second generation Filipino/Iranian artist and Badiucao is a former citizen of China who now lives in Australia.

Finding a voice through art

Badiucao is a political artist originally from Shanghai. He uses art and humour in order to confront social and political issues in China, tackling challenging topics such as dictatorship, censorship and corruption. His work has been used by Amnesty International, Freedom House, BBC, CNN and China Digital Times, and exhibited in Australia, America and Italy.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao’s work has regularly come under the attention of the Chinese government, who would often close down his Weibo account. He decided to move to Australia in order to continue to freely express himself and continues to confront the official record via his Twitter account @badiucao.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

He explained in an interview with PRI that he aims to use his cartoons to deliver the message that individuals can still have a voice. But this voice can come at a cost. In an interview Badiucao explained the challenge of speaking out in China:

I believe that the Chinese space for political cartoonists in the mainland has already closed. In the era when Weibo first launched, online satirical cartoonists were very active. We could see Kuang Biao, Dashixiong, and dozens of other cartoonists commenting on current events.  But now, I almost never see domestic cartoonists’ work.

The hurdles have only made him more determined. He has more recently branched out from cartoons into more diverse expressions, such as print-making, oil painting, sculptures and installations. He sees this development, as well as exhibitions on more diverse platforms, as a way of reaching out to new audiences and a way to become a more varied artist along the lines of Banksy or Ai Weiwei.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao, series of works on paper, 2016. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Badiucao described his art as motivating him to express his own point of view. In an interview with China Digital Times, he explained:

The starting point for drawing cartoons was my search for a way to vocalise and freely express my views on all sorts of issues. From another perspective, it was a way for me to uncover my own courage. I hope my work will become a record of my personal perspective on social issues and history. In China, history is constantly being unified and tampered with, and even forgotten. On the other hand, individual tragedy is engulfed by the grander narrative.

Connecting to a sense of homelessness

Elyas Alavi works across collage, video and performance in order to explore memory, exile and displacement. Born in Afghanistan, Alavi moved to Australia in 2007 as a refugee. He has recently returned to Afghanistan a number of times and these journeys make their way into his creative practice through an exploration of conflict as well as a renewed connection with the people and landscapes.

Elyas Alavi, 'Bloody Milky Life series 1 - 3', 2017, ink, acrylic and photograph on paper. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Elyas Alavi, ‘Bloody Milky Life series 1 – 3’, 2017, ink, acrylic and photograph on paper. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

In an interview with The Advertiser, Alavi commented that because of his early displacement he has had difficulty finding a place where he belongs:

For a long time I felt I did not belong anywhere […]. And anywhere I’d go they’d see me as an outsider.

Elyas Alavi, 'Detention Camp (ordugah)', 2014, Mashad Iran, video still. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Elyas Alavi, ‘Detention Camp (ordugah)’, 2014, Mashad Iran, video still. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Alavi often draws on memories of his homeland, as well as more recent experiences returning there, throughout his work. A review of one of Alavi’s previous exhibitions, “Derakht-e bi rishe (The Uprooted Tree)” at the CACSA Project Space, highlights that

The strength of Alavi’s work lies it its ability to connect us to the abstract idea of home through the personal memories and lived experiences informing this body of work.

The reviewer comments that it is Alavi’s capacity to oscillate between the concept and the reality of home and homelessness that adds resonance to his work. Through drawing on emotional touchstones, Alavi connects the viewer to the stark political reality of his homeland.

Elyas Alavi, Blood Sample, 2016, Iran, video still. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

Elyas Alavi, Blood Sample, 2016, Iran, video still. Images courtesy the artist and Praxis ARTSPACE.

In the work Ordugah (Detention Camp), Alavi turns his attention to Afghan refugees in Iranian suburbs, where they are living on the edges of cities surrounded by invisible wired fences and walls. In this work he spread more than ten rolls of thread around trees, concrete columns, across roads and intersections. As he observes

the use of this fragile and weak reclaimed material links the domestic, the community, to the space that surrounds them in an attempt to activate and reveal the invisible barriers that confine them.

Searching for connections to heritage and identity

Aida Azin’s work connects with the importance with culture and identity, which is particularly pertinent given her background as an Adelaide-based artist with Filipino-Iranian heritage. Principally a painter, Azin has recently developed deeper connections with the Philippines through a residency in Manila. Through this process Azin investigated impacts of mining, protest, poverty and colonisation. She believes in developing an individual voice based in personal heritage that conveys stories and messages of protest.

Aida Azin, "Everything is Stolen", installation view, Fontanelle Gallery Bowden SA, September 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Aida Azin, “Everything is Stolen”, installation view, Fontanelle Gallery Bowden SA, September 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Another impact of her journey to the Philippines was the evolution of her creative practice. In an interview with Yewth magazine Azin explains how she explored new avenues in her work:

I was given all this encouragement to loosen up in the studio and play with different materials and colours. So I started experimenting with painting behind glass and reversing the image as well as looking at ways to use the gallery space. The content in that show was about celebrating that I had found a bridge into my half-Filipina heritage. By going over there I met a whole bunch of crew my age who were also experimenting with portraying their cultural identity.

Aida Azin, "Everything is Stolen", installation view, Fontanelle Gallery Bowden SA, September 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Aida Azin, “Everything is Stolen”, installation view, Fontanelle Gallery Bowden SA, September 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Part of her practice involves extensive journal writing, an element which sometimes makes its way into her exhibitions. Developing the journals in the artwork is a way of processing the varied experiences of life, from dreams and thoughts to events and memories. By incorporating them in her work Azin transforms the difficult-to-process emotions of everyday life.

Claire Wilson

1564

Related topics: video, painting, feature, installation, Iran, Philippines, Afghanistan, Australian, events in Australia, Chinese, emerging artists, art and the community, gallery shows

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