The 2017 Whitney Biennial presents 63 American and international artists.
In a time of turmoil, the Whitney Biennial considers how racial tensions, economic inequalities and polarising politics affect our sense of community.
The 2017 Whitney Biennial is taking place at the Whitney Museum of American Art, from 17 March to 11 June. In its 78th edition, the Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art. This year the Biennial includes work from 63 artists working in diverse media such as painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, film and video, photography, activism, performance, music and video game design.
Here Art Radar takes a look at some of the Asian and Middle Eastern artists participating in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.
1. Basma Alsharif
Born in Kuwait in 1983 of Palestinian heritage, Basma Alsharif was raised between France and the United States. She is a visual artist and filmmaker who uses images, sound and language to explore political history and collective memory, and how the anonymous individual interacts with these.
For the Biennial, Basma Alsharif presents the feature-length film Ouroboros, an epic narrative in which the protagonist Diego Marcon travels through a number of landscapes that seem to merge into one another. Marcon travels from Gaza Strip and Indigenous territories in North America to Southern Italy and the French region of Brittany. Referencing the symbol of the ouroboros, a serpent that consumes its own tail, the film is also a story where the end of civilisation is also its beginning. The narrative seems to exist in a time of its own, playing out a loop that is destined to repeat where amnesia is the only way to survive.
GCC is an art collective whose name is based on the pan-regional political model, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It was founded in 2013 and is made up of Nanu Al-Hamad, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Aziz Alqatami, Barrak Alzaid, Khalid al Gharaballi, Amal Khalaf, Fatima Al Qadiri and Monira Al Qadiri.
For the 2017 Biennial GCC present a sculptural installation based around a news item. In October 2016, police were called to a beach in the United Arab Emirates when a melon – covered in inscriptions and punctured by nails – washed ashore. It was considered an object of black magic, which is illegal in the country. As GCC state, “while the governments of the Gulf countries have selectively chosen to revitalise certain aspects of the region’s cultural heritage, sorcery is relegated to the fringe.” In the work, the magic melon is placed in the centre of a traffic roundabout. The work explores the seeming contradiction between this event and the modern way of life, questioning which traditions are kept and which are denied.
3. Tala Madani
Iranian-American artist Tala Madani (b. 1981) examines cultural and sexual identity through her paintings. Often using humour and irony, Madani challenges traditional patriarchal divisions through her portraits of men playing out fictive, deviant rituals that perform at the edge between playfulness and violence.
The suite of works in the Biennial continues to challenge these perceptions through brightly coloured paintings in which light comes out of bodies’ orifices. This light from the interior references ancient debates regarding the light of the soul compared with the materiality of the body. The works are a continual negotiation between a spiritual awakening and bodily functions, alluding to a cycle of life and death.
4. Tuan Andrew Nguyen
Vietnamese-born artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen (b. 1976) uses explorations of the body as a site of resistance in public space, looking at ways mass media impacts these moments of defiance. Nguyen’s work often questions the individual’s relationship to history, trauma, nationhood and displacement. His art collective, The Propeller Group (founded in 2006), is a mix between a fake advertising company and archeologists of invisible historical mysteries.
At the Whitney Biennial Nguyen presents the short film The Island, shot on the Malaysian island Pulau Bidong. This island was the largest and longest-operating refugee camp after the Vietnam War and housed 250,000 people between 1978 and 1991, including Nguyen and his family. Now the island is overgrown, although residue of its past can be found in crumbling buildings and relics. The film is set in a dystopian future where the last two men on earth inhabit this island.
5. Anicka Yi
Anicka Yi (b. 1971) is a South Korean conceptual artist who manipulates and creates fragrances. Through her creative process, such as boiling shredded sandals, for example, she evokes tactility and perishability in the context of the visual arts industry which preferences the visible.
Yi’s 3D film presented at the Biennial, The Flavor Genome, explores the way sensory experiences can change perceptions. Narrating a hunt for a mythical medicinal plant in the Brazilian Amazon that is never quite fully explained, the film projects colonial or corporate desires onto nature. The protagonist, a flavour chemist, symbolises a breakdown between the natural and the man-made hybrid organisms. The film brings to the surface concerns such as genetic engineering and biotechnology, as well as imperialist exploitation that filters into every aspect of contemporary life.
6. An-My Lê
An-My Lê (b. 1960) is a Vietnamese-born photographer and filmmaker whose work often investigates the impact, consequences and representation of war. She looks at the impact of war on the landscapes, showing how nature is violated by the conflict.
In her new project, “The Silent General”, An-My Lê looks for past echoes of conflict in modern-day Louisiana. In one case a Confederate Army general is placed in an urban landscape and another shows a film about a Confederate Army deserter. The past and the present exist in the same image, highlighting the inter-relation between the two, and the fact that we can never be entirely free of our past. The series suggests that the conflicts born in the past, related to race, class, labour and wealth, still exist in the present.
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