curated by cosmin costinas
2-10 February 2018 | Dhaka Art Summit
17 march - 20 may 2018 | Para site, hong kong
6-24 june 2018 | TS1, Yangon
20 july - 7 October 2018 | Museum of Modern Art in WARSAw
A beast, a god, and a line was woven by connections and circulations of ideas across a geography with Bengal at its core. This geography - arbitrary as any mapping - is commonly called the Asia-Pacific, but it could also be defined by several other definitions, which this exhibition explored and untangled.
The issues summoned aimed to mark the current historical moment. Perhaps the most visible among these is the development and spread of politicised religion and its structures: Salafi Islam across several countries, extremist Buddhism in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, Hindu ethno-fascism in India, and revivalist Christianity among many indigenous communities in the Philippines, to name just a few examples in the region. In close connection to politicised religion is the rising tide of populism and nationalism across continents. These are all intimately connected to a generalised loss of confidence in the ideals and certainties of Western liberal democracy, and to rising alternatives and challenges to the liberal consensus, often based on various attempts to create parallel narratives to Western modernity.
Western hegemony was also challenged from a fundamentally different premise, that of unfinished processes of decolonisation and resurgent Indigenous identities, which were reflected both in the subject matter and in the aesthetic choices of several exhibited artists. Throughout the exhibition, artists investigated traces of colonial domination, as well as the different ramifications of that hegemony today, when cultural and environmental genocides continue to unravel landscapes, communities, and worlds.
These broad stories circulate across South and Southeast Asia on routes going back several historical eras, the first being the early Austronesian world that has woven a maritime universe surpassed in scale only by European colonialism, from the Pacific to Madagascar, with Taiwan as its origin and Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines at its core – which was taken as the speculative and approximate geographical perimeter of this exhibition. These historical journeys also served as an introduction to a major political reality that defines many contexts today and is often manipulated by the rising nationalist discourses: the contemporary waves of migration and refugee crises.
This exhibition questioned how we should negotiate common ground in the context of the overall political and ideological fragmentation discussed above. How can an aesthetic basis for the language of contemporary art be maintained if the ideological bases of contemporary art are questioned? How can positions that claim disparate and conflicting genealogies sit together in a shared exhibition space? One tenuous leading line across the different aspects of this exhibition were textiles. A material and language common to different cultural spaces, textiles also have a firmly routed history in art, being possible sites for parallel processes of historiography. Moreover, textiles hold a different position in negotiating relationships with places and contexts, in ways that the individual agency of artists escapes.
While this exhibition included artists and practices of various historical, cultural, and geographical contexts, it was not based on an ethos of discovering or introducing artists from presumably marginalised regions, but worked within the premise of an already fragmentary and decentralised art world.