The depressed global economy has raised the stakes for government leaders around the world as frustrated citizens cry out for political and social reform. Waves of civil unrest in Asia have dominated the international media in recent months. In mid-June, massive protests in Iran followed the announcement of questionable results for the presidential election. Meanwhile, in western China, simmering tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese erupted into bloody riots, resulting in some 200 dead, more than 1,000 injured and many more arrested.
ArtAsiaPacific’s September/October issue focuses on artists whose work engages with politically charged themes and seeks out alternative resolutions to the world’s most deeply entrenched problems.
The horrifying specter of nuclear war remains a sensitive topic in Japan. Features editor Ashley Rawlings examines how the irreverent Japanese collective ChimPom broke one of the country’s touchiest taboos after skywriting the word PIKA (meaning “flash” and an overt reference to the atomic bomb) in white smoke over Hiroshima. Rawlings analyzes why the city’s residents found the group’s action unacceptable, yet were able to embrace other interpretations of the 1945 explosions by artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang.
Turning to Taiwan, AAP’s desk editor in Taipei David Frazier looks at the sexually charged paintings and digital prints of Wu Tien-chang while reflecting on the island’s transition from four decades of martial law to democracy in 1987. Curator and scholar Britta Erickson explores the diverse work of Yang Jiechang, revealing how the artist regularly encounters social and political antagonism when he exhibits, not only in his home country of China but also in France and Poland. From the Middle East, AA contributor and Almanac co-editor Marisa Mazria-Katz considers the ruminative work of Yael Bartana, an Israeli artist who critiques Zionist propaganda in videos that touch on Israeli national identity. Looking north to Lebanon, managing editor HG Masters traces recent developments in the work of conceptualist Walid Raad who, after retiring his project the Atlas Group on the history of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90), has turned his attention to the development of art and culture in the Middle East, including the massive museum construction projects in Abu Dhabi.
In Profiles, AAP meets instrumental figures in China, Iran and Australia. Vicki and Kent Logan, owners of the largest private collection contemporary Chinese art in the United States, talk about their fascination with Cynical Realism, and how the 1990s movement broadened their understanding of social change in China. AAP’s West Asia desk editor Sara Raza talks to artist, curator, collector and gallerist Fereydoun Ave about developments in the Iranian art scene following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and his recent mixed-media collages portraying heroic figures from Persian medieval poetry. Michael Young sits down with John Kaldor, Australia’s leading contemporary arts patron, who has commissioned major public artworks in Sydney by Christo, Gregor Schneider and others over the last 40 years.
In Projects, NaoKo TakaHashi, a Japanese performance artist who has worked in Jerusalem, tells AAP about how she transformed her experience as an immigrant in London into performances and installations that record social interactions with unwitting participants. For Where I Work, AAP visited Naiza Khan in her Karachi studio, filled with the artist’s haunting abstractions of the female body and her more recent work about urban decay. Reflecting on the history of the Subcontinent, senior editor Don J. Cohn reviews three recent books on India’s passage to artistic and cultural modernity. In My Eight, artist and biting social critic Ai Weiwei lists his favorite governments, and as a reminder that democracies are not immune to the erosion of civil liberties, independent curator Hyunjin Kim discusses the South Korean government’s regulation of free speech and deep budgetary cuts to the country’s arts infrastructure.