Celebrating Southeast Asian Art

SHAFAQNA – At Art Stage Singapore this week, the spotlight is on emerging artists in Southeast Asia.Vietnamese artist Hoang Duong Cam is presenting a triptych collage of images of his family, Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader. Choy Ka Fai of Singapore will show 3-D-printed artifacts that reflect life of a 19th-century Chinese settlement in what is now part of Indonesia, and Filipino mixed-media artist Gary-Ross Pastrana is displaying a branch-like sculpture made from 24-karat gold and scrap metal.

The trio are among 32 painters, performance artists and photographers whose works comprise “Eagles Fly, Sheep Flock—Biographical Imprints: Artistic Practices in Southeast Asia,” an exhibit of regional art at the four-day fair that kicks off on Jan. 22. While the majority of the roughly 130 galleries setting up shop at the Marina Bay Sands’ cavernous basement will show their wares in traditional white-walled booths, Art Stage Singapore has dedicated about 1,000 square meters of space solely to these 32 artists.

Lorenzo Rudolf, Art Stage Singapore’s director, called the platform a “continuation” of a similar Southeast Asian effort at last year’s fair, with two important exceptions. First, the works were picked because they reflected a theme: how biography affects artistic practices and not simply “an accumulation of certain works put together in a good way.”

He also tasked the exhibition’s curator, Khim Ong, to focus on emerging artists who may be unfamiliar to mainstream audiences. “Today, the art world is driven mainly by the market, but we have to go back to a balance between the academic and nonacademic, the commercial and the noncommercial,” Mr. Rudolf said. “The platform should be a place to discover Southeast Asia … built up in an academic way, but a commercial exhibition.”

‘Great Daddy’ (2014, acrylic on canvas) by Balinese artist Nyoman Masriadi

‘Great Daddy’ (2014, acrylic on canvas) by Balinese artist Nyoman Masriadi Photo: Courtesy of Nyoman Masriadi and Paul Kasmin Gallery

Ms. Ong traveled around Southeast Asia, visiting artists and other industry professionals before eventually narrowing her selection to 32 artists from an approximate 50 at the start. The fair then approached the artists and their commercial representatives, whom the fair charged a lower exhibition fee than those paid by galleries outside the platform.

“Many galleries in Southeast Asia are economically not very strong,” Mr. Rudolf said. “This platform gives certain galleries who would never have the possibility to rent space in a fair the chance to participate.”

Equally important, the platform addresses the difficulty of making a coherent exhibition themed on Southeast Asia, whose people speak a variety of languages, whose religions and cultures differ widely, and whose economies range from the emerging to the wealthy. “That’s always the challenge when we talk of Southeast Asia,” Ms. Ong said.

She elected to celebrate the diversity of art in the region by focusing on individual artistic practices. “Every artist develops in his or her own way, although they may have common influences,” Ms. Ong said. “I don’t think we can brand Southeast Asian art as a particular style, [but] these artists are based in Southeast Asia and reacting to their immediate environment.”

One such artist is Mr. Pastrana, who works out of Manila. “I haven’t had a habit of contextualizing my work within a regional mindset,” he said. “I’m becoming more aware, but the Philippines is very focused on America.”

To create the sculpture “99%” in the exhibit, Mr. Pastrana bought a car, dismantled it and sold 99% of the metal parts. He used the proceeds of that sale to buy a small amount of 24-karat gold, and attached it to a figure made from the scrap metal he had saved. “I’ve been thinking about the relationship between parts and the whole, and this was another take on the idea,” he said.

‘99%’ (2014, assembled car parts and 24-karat gold) by Filipino artist Gary-Ross Pastrana

‘99%’ (2014, assembled car parts and 24-karat gold) by Filipino artist Gary-Ross Pastrana Photo: Courtesy of Gary-Ross Pastrana and Silverlens

The 3-D pieces by Mr. Choy, the Singaporean artist, include an imaginary state seal from the Lanfang Republic, an ethnic Chinese-led state that existed in Borneo from the late 18th to late 19th centuries. He said that while his exploration of Chinese migrants in pre-independence Indonesia contributed to the regional flair, he didn’t consider himself to be part of a Southeast Asian tradition.

Nevertheless, Mr. Choy said he thought the platform made sense as a venue to introduce audiences to fresh work. “I’ve never [previously] seen, maybe, half the artists on the list,” he said. “It’s a good way to expose young artists who are not working in the commercial scene.”

Despite the fledgling status of many of the artists in the Southeast Asian platform, it will also serve a commercial purpose: setting Art Stage Singapore apart from Art Basel Hong Kong, Asia’s major art fixture, which this year moves to March from May and will include 233 galleries.

“I was, at the beginning, a bit worried if this date change would affect us,” Mr. Rudolf said. But there was no drop-off in applications from galleries whom he thought might have wanted to do only one Asian fair in the space of three months. “We are clearly covering the Southeast Asia area and Basel, the northern area,” he said. “If you have your own niche, you are much less attackable by a competitor.”

One gallery that will attend both fairs is New York-based Paul Kasmin Gallery, which will carry a two-by-three meter painting by Balinese artist Nyoman Masriadi, alongside Western artists Robert Indiana and David LaChapelle. “While we work to promote Asian artists in New York, it’s equally interesting to bring our American and European artists to audiences in the East,” Mr. Kasmin said. “It’s this kind of international dialogue that we find most exciting.”

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