Comprised of one-on-one conversations, short presentations and panel discussions, REORIENT brought together art professionals to explore views across various locales in South and Southeast Asia.
Art Radar learns more on the occasion of M+ Deputy Director and Chief Curator Doryun Chong’s conversation with acclaimed Indian artist Sheela Gowda.
From 30 November to 2 December 2017, M+ organised REORIENT, a public event on the region of South and Southeast Asia. Although the M+ collection has included works by South and Southeast Asian artists, the region has not been widely featured in M+’s public programmes. Hence, REORIENT is designed to gather art professionals from the fields of visual art, design and architecture and moving image, to inform the audience in Hong Kong, as well as to examine the similarities and differences between the cultural practices of Hong Kong and South and Southeast Asia.
The one-on-one conversations and discussions featured art world professionals from Bangalore to Bangladesh, Yogyakarta to Ho Chi Minh City, across disciplines and institutions. Art Radar highlights the conversation between M+ Deputy Director and Chief Curator Doryun Chong with acclaimed Indian artist Sheela Gowda, which took place on the second day of the three-day event, namely “Art, Ritual and the Everyday”. In this two-part series, Art Radar first interviews Mr Chong about his views on curatorial practices in the region, followed by a summary of artist Sheela Gowda’s presentation.
Mr Doryun Chong was appointed, in September 2013, as the inaugural Chief Curator at M+, Hong Kong. Promoted to Deputy Director and Chief Curator in January 2016, he oversees all curatorial activities and programmes in the three main disciplinary areas of design and architecture, moving image and visual art. They include acquisitions, exhibitions, learning and public programmes and digital initiatives. The Herzog and de Meuron-designed building of the museum of visual culture is slated to be opened in 2019 in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong.
At REORIENT, Mr Chong spoke to Sheela Gowda (b. 1957, India), a renowned artist based in Bangalore in southern India. She is known for her site-oriented large scale installations, which are comprised of found materials such as cow dung, metal barrels, wood, car bumpers, incense and human hair. In the conversation, she spoke about the cultural context behind her works, as well as the notion of labour, class and gender. Her works have been shown at Tate Modern in London, Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Perez Museum in the United States, among others.
Art Radar speaks to Mr Doryun Chong to find out more about his views about the art scene in the region.
What is the curatorial strategy for South and Southeast Asian art at M+? Why is it important to introduce art of this region to the public in Hong Kong?
South and Southeast Asia is a vast and complex region, or regions, defined by numerous coexisting languages, cultures, experiences and conditions — arguably much more so compared to East Asia. For that reason, it would be foolhardy, if not impossible, to claim that an institution can have an overarching singular strategy to address the region. Thanks to the fact that we are now living in an era in which artists from South and Southeast Asia are often travelling to our own region, and we get to visit different parts of that region with relative ease, connections are multiplying and networks are expanding. We are judiciously following these leads to expand our exposure, knowledge, and collection and programming opportunities in accumulative, and slow but sure ways. Part of our curatorial strategy is to accept and be aware of the necessarily highly selective nature of our approach to the artistic practices that have taken place or are transpiring there – and also to remind ourselves continually that this is a long game. We are just starting and we will continue to engage and explore more broadly and deeply in years to come.
Given the mission of M+, that is, a museum of 20th- and 21st-century visual culture with a global outlook from Hong Kong, it makes all the sense that we start by positioning Hong Kong according to historical, cultural and geopolitical facts; specifically, in this particular instance, the fact that Hong Kong is situated at the strategic juncture in the South China Sea between East Asia and Southeast Asia. Within three hours of flight from Hong Kong lie Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Kolkata, for instance, and Singapore is closer than Seoul or Tokyo is. While the population of Hong Kong may be primarily Chinese, the city has always had significant populations from our neighbours to our West and South. At the same time, as we all know, there are significant Chinese populations in many Southeast Asian countries. For all these reasons, it is quite natural that M+ should pay close attention to the dynamic landscape of artmaking unfolding in different parts of Southeast as well as South Asia.
What are some major changes you have observed in the art scene in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia since the time you joined M+?
There have always been major practitioners as long as I have been working as a curator, way before I moved to Hong Kong. But in the last few years, Southeast Asia has experienced significant growths as Hong Kong has been in terms of infrastructure building – in both commercial and public, non-profit sectors. Art Basel Hong Kong of course is the most important contemporary art fair in all of Asia, but smaller fairs in Singapore, Delhi, Manila and Jakarta are contributing to the whole scene. The opening of the National Gallery Singapore is a major achievement, an anchor point for the whole region, and a great counterpart and counterpoint to what M+ is and is planning to do. There are also many other smaller institutions and initiatives, almost too many to name already. Some of them are new, while others have been there for many years already: STPI in Singapore, The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, the new Museum MACAN in Jakarta, the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok, etc. The new crop of young galleries emerging in cities like Manila, Kolkata, Mumbai and many others is also a very exciting factor in this whole development.
How has the rapid development and the shift from agrarian economy to urbanisation in Southeast Asia shaped the artistic practice of artists in the region?
Perhaps it is true that there has been a “rapid development from agrarian economy to urbanisation in Southeast Asia”, but at the same time, the cities that I have mentioned have been major centres of culture and learning as well as politics for many years – decades and even centuries – and have all had their own distinctive histories of modern arts and culture. Having said that I also have the impression that many serious and committed artists always have a view towards the continuous disruption of long-established ways of life, traditions and craftsmanship, and collisions between the urban and the rural and make works about these phenomena.
What is your first impression of artist Sheela Gowda’s work?
I have been following Sheela’s work for about 15 years, since I first encountered it in the early 2000s. There are many things I can say – or at least many impressions I continue to have about her work. To put it simply, I find her sculptures to be some of the most visceral, poignant, complex and multilayered and elegant works today. They are at the same time sensuous but down-to-earth and at times, acerbic and hardcore. I’m a huge admirer of her work.
- “The Weight of Lightness”: ink art at Hong Kong’s M+ museum – January 2018 – Art Radar highlights several works of art from the exhibition.
- India Art Fair 2017: a gathering place for South Asian art – round-up – November 2017 – Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights of this year’s Fair
- “Where the Water Takes Us”: weaving histories through time and space with Rithika Merchant in Mumbai – in conversation – January 2018 – Art Radar speaks to the artist to find out more about her work
- Transforming lost urban spaces: the Sassoon Dock Art Project in Mumbai – interview – December 2017 – Art Radar interviews Giulia Ambrogi, the curator of this experiential exhibition that has transformed the 142-year old Sassoon Docks
- The Roles and Responsibilities of Museums in Civil Society: CIMAM Annual Conference 2017, Singapore – November 2017 – on the occasion of the three-day CIMAM conference in Singapore, Art Radar spoke with Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore
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