AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 135

[ Interarea/Border-Crossing Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 135: Towards the New Asian Century: Memory, Identity and Globalisation in Contemporary Asian Art

Organizer: Caroline Turner, Australian National University, Australia

The turn of this century witnessed the beginning of a wide-spread acceptance that Asia is now a key player in world affairs economically, politically and culturally. This panel seeks to explore the dynamic changes that have affected art in Asia, particularly over the last decade, through multi disciplinary approaches. Our panel includes curators with considerable experience in major museum based exhibitions of both historical and contemporary Asian art as well as scholars undertaking research in the areas of art, art history, visual culture and international relations. It thus crosses borders in several ways, including disciplinary, historical and geographical. Contributions to the theme include an exploration of how contemporary museums in Asia have responded to geopolitical transformations and how new transnational exchanges transcend past histories and open new directions for the future (Turner);a paper on Asian artists in the mid twentieth century era of war and nationalism and the implications for understanding art in the present day (Carroll); a case study analysis of self-portraits by contemporary Asian artists (Menzies);an examination of new Asian cultural networks, especially the internet, and how these are changing the dynamics of art in the region (Antoinette); and a paper linking art, geopolitical changes and international influence (Barclay). Our 5 panelists hope to stimulate discussion around the question of what art tells us about issues of memory, identity and globalisation in Asia today. The papers will be limited in time and thus we hope to generate considerable cross disciplinary discussion of the key issues raised.

Memory, Identity and Globalisation: Art and Museums ‘Crossing Borders’
Caroline Turner, Australian National University, Australia

Memory, identity and globalisation are undoubtedly three of the most potent themes in contemporary Asian art. Art in the Asian region is a product of tradition, historical inter-regional cultural encounters, and, in the modern era, engagement with the West. Artists today respond to sometimes traumatic local and regional histories, to questions of personal, national and increasingly transnational identity as well as to dramatic social change and contemporary global issues. This paper examines the responses of museums in the region to these issues as well as to the geopolitical changes that have led to new connections across Asia and internationally. In the last decade new art and exhibition exchanges have taken place, for example, between Japan and China, India and China and in 2010 the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei have begun exhibition exchanges. Singapore is a major regional artistic hub for Southeast Asia while Japan has played a significant role in regional cultural initiatives for decades. Art is increasingly part of the ‘soft power’ diplomacy of Asia and new transnational exchanges transcend past histories and open new directions for the future. The paper also discusses some of the ways recurring international exhibitions such as Biennales have opened up new global perspectives and how certain artists such as Chinese born Cai Guo Qiang, who lived for many years in Japan and now is New York based, have acted as ‘circuit breakers’ in the international art world.

Art and Change in the Asia Pacific: mid-century war and dislocation as a paradigm for the future
Alison Carroll, University of Melbourne, Australia

The greatest period of social, economic and political change in the last century in the Asia Pacific was the time of war and nationalism in the 1940-50s. This paper assesses four responses of artists to this time: first, a response to initiatives of the government of the day to promote the official cause; second, a politically inspired if not officially sanctioned response; third, a personal response; and fourth, no or little response at all. These responses are, by and large, cross regional. Forced, encouraged or allowed by the circumstances of the day, they are some of the most interesting and important art of the century: many now regarded as icons in their own cultures today. Memory, identity and the artists’ sense of themselves as players in a wider world are key to the works. Is the current situation of global change, affected by and taking effect in, the Asia Pacific - while not as cross-regionally violent - also a milieu in which similar responses are encouraged to occur? The paper will be accompanied by a wide range of images.

Memory and Identity in Contemporary Asian Self-Portraits
Jackie Menzies, Independent Scholar, Australia

Memory in self-portraits in an increasingly global, transnational world, where people move, voluntarily or not, from one location to another and from one culture to another, conveying one’s identity, history and persona is a multi-faceted challenge. Sometimes an individual’s personal history is complex. For these reasons and because of porous borders (physical and well as social), and the lack of shared memories, the language of a self-portrait needs increasingly sophisticated translation. For the artists of Asia, there are issues related to emotional, political and traumatic topics such as colonial pasts, religions and displacements. Because of the diversity of some Asian societies, the local that is intrinsic to the defining of self has limited reference outside a specific community. So too with history, and sometimes religion. Thus for artists to create self-portraits that resonate with all viewers is a challenge. This paper discusses two contemporary artists: Indian artist Pushpamala N and Tibetan expatriate Gonkar Gyatso. The use of memory within their images exemplifies the difficulties in conveying historical legacies. Pushpamala collaborated in 2004 with British photographer Clare Arni in a work that comments on the colonial obsession with classification by drawing on theatrical conventions, tableau settings and past visual traditions. Gonkar Gyatso depicts himself in a series of interiors shaped by culture as he moves from Tibet to Beijing to Dharamsala in India to London, each disruption impacting on his sense of place and identity.

Identity and Interconnectivity: New information and communication networks in Asian art today
Michelle M. Antoinette, Australian National University, Australia

This paper explores new intra-Asian cultural networks underpinning contemporary Asian art. It is part of a broader Australian Research Council funded Postdoctoral research project on the rise of new cultural networks in Asia in the twenty-first century. The paper is focussed in particular on the role of new communication technologies in forging and promoting new art and art museum initiatives. Governments in the region have made considerable investment in communications infrastructure and new technology which has resulted in the growth of contemporary cultural information networks and creative web-based networks. Government initiatives are being paralleled by private museums, commercial galleries, and/or independent artist networks. With regard to the latter, creative and entrepreneurial young populations are developing localised and independent networks, avoiding government routes to cultural production. The paper will explore the rise of new Asian information and communication networks which support the production and flows of new cultural initiatives and investigate the impact of new technology – especially the Internet – on critical issues related to the panel topic: memory, identity and global connectivity in art.

Art and Power
Glen St John Barclay, Australian National University, Australia

A nation’s rise to international predominance or at least prominence has historically been accompanied by a rise in its cultural influence. The dominant artistic schools during the period of Cold War superpower rivalry were the International Style practised by US artists and vigorously supported by the Department of State as an exercise in ‘soft power’, and the Socialist Realism similarly cultivated and propagated by the Soviet Union. The resurgence of international interest in Japanese art practice accompanied the spectacular rise of the Japanese economy in the 1960s and 1970s, when a group of islands slightly larger than the state of California became for nearly half a century the second largest economy in the world. And now we have the rise of China, with India not all that far behind. This historical phenomenon is described by Kishore Mahbubani as simply a case of ‘the world returning to the historical norm of the place of Asian societies’ in the global hierarchy, referring to the fact that as recently as 1820 China and India together accounted for 59% of the world economy. They still account today for only 37%. But the logical forecast on current trends is that by 2050, three of the four largest economies in the world will be Asian, and the largest will be China. What we are witnessing today is an Asian Renaissance drawing on a culture of over 4000 years, the cultural influence of which will become more and more evident.