Contemporary Asian contexts

Contemporary Asian art has had a remarkable impact on global art practice, and simultaneously has produced an enduring record of the history of that region from the moment of decolonisation to the present. Many artists in the region have a deep concern about what it means to be human and to contribute to the development of a better future for their communities as well as having a sustained commitment to making art. This book, written at the start of the ‘Asian century’, focuses on the contexts and conditions which have helped to shape both art practice, and postcolonial society, in the region. Using case studies of selected artists, it discusses their work in relation to issues of human rights, social and environmental wellbeing, and creativity and is one of the first surveys of these issues in contemporary Asian art. It is an important contribution to studies of contemporary Asian art and art history.

This chapter establishes the intellectual frameworks and describes the lines of discussion that shape this book. It provides a background to contemporary Asian art, and how it emerged in international contexts during the 1990s. It details contemporary thinking on human rights discourse, law and practices, both on the global platform, and within the Asian context. Finally, it explicates the intersection of contemporary art and human rights in Asian contexts.

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Artists who engage as cultural activists use their creative skills and vision in an effort to achieve political change and social justice by mobilising people through emotional engagement; those who engage more directly in politics may also involve themselves in mounting political demonstrations, circulating petitions, campaigning, working for a political party, or actively organising community events to achieve legislative or policy changes. This chapter presents case studies of Thai artist and political activist Vasan Sitthiket, Indonesian-born cultural activist Dadang Christanto, and Malaysian artist Wong Hoy Cheong, who operates in both modes. All three artists engage in their artwork and in their social or political lives to bring about positive changes in their communities.

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This chapter focuses on effects of the postcolonial struggle, including conflict, divided societies, and the development of transnational identities. It explores how four artists—Yoshiko Shimada from Japan, Sri Lankan artist Jagath Weerasinghe, FX Harsono from Indonesia, and Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê —have engaged with such issues in their art, and how they approach, through their practice, the responsibilities that emerge from history and its traces. It explores how these artists address themselves to contexts of violence and injustice, challenging the treatment of women and minority groups, and remembering the conflicts that resulted from postcolonial nation-building.

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The challenge of a globalising world

In this chapter we move from the postcolonial moment to the implications of economic and cultural globalisation, the tension between local and global imperatives, and artists’ responses to the effects of this new structure. Case studies address the personal histories, contexts and art of Kimsooja from South Korea; Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan from the Philippines; and Oscar Ho Hing-kay and John Young Zerunge from Hong Kong. All are articulate critics of, and contributors to, contemporary cultural and social practice; and all have engaged thoughtfully and critically, and developed a radical cultural practice that sheds light on their historical and contemporary contexts.

in Art and human rights
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This chapter presents case studies of Pakistan-based Salima Hashmi, India-based Nalini Malani, Chinese-Australian Guan Wei and Chinese now-American Cai Guo-Qiang to develop the concept of worldmaking. It begins from the premise that art, in its extraordinary variability, and its flickering attention across the lived world, is remarkably effective at capturing plurality, and engaging a range of possible ways of seeing and being—and therefore of worldmaking, in both cultural and environmental terms. The artists we discuss in this chapter are directed toward rights and wellbeing, toward the construction of a viable global community, and toward the protection of the planet on which we live. Their works provide a way of aligning facts and truths, and thus of proferring new ways of looking, and new ways of living.

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This short chapter draws together the threads of the book to this point and, referring to the recent work of a number of contemporary Asian artists, discusses the turn, since the late 1990s, toward community building and ecological activism. It expands the concept of human rights from legal and cultural principles to the principle of environmental safety and well being through protection of the planet. It describes, in short, the art of people who have become citizens of their own nations, and of the world, and who, with their citizenship, have accepted civic responsibility.

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