Opening today at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center is No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, the inaugural touring exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative. Featuring recent work by 13 artists from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, No Country presents some of the most compelling and innovative voices in South and Southeast Asia today.
The exhibition was first seen in New York at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (22 February – 22 May 2013) as part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, a multi-year collaboration that charts contemporary art practice in three geographic regions—South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa—and encompasses curatorial residencies, international touring exhibitions, audience-driven educational programming, and acquisitions for the Guggenheim’s permanent collection. All works have been newly acquired for the Guggenheim’s collection under the auspices of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Purchase Fund. Following its presentation in Hong Kong, the exhibition will travel to Singapore.
The exhibition—the title of which was drawn from the opening line of W.B. Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (1928), which was also adopted by Cormac McCarthy for his novel No Country for Old Men (2005)—proposes an understanding of South and Southeast Asia that transcends physical and political borders. The historical narrative of South and Southeast Asia stretches from the era of its ancient kingdoms and empires to that of today’s nation-states. The region is marked by traces of colonization, division, and intervention, events and processes that are inscribed in cultural memory. South and Southeast Asia is also home to numerous influential faiths, religions, and ethical codes, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.
Highlights for me include Indian artist Shilpa Gupta’s ‘1:14.9’, an egg made from a ball of hand-wound string accompanied by a small plaque reading, ‘1188.5 MILES OF FENCED BORDER – WEST, NORTH-WEST / DATA UPDATE: DEC 31, 2007.’ The string represents the exact length of the fencing of the border between India and Pakistan. The work comments on the tenuous nature of national boundaries and geopolitical divisions, specifically the genesis of the South Asian partition, which occurred either side of midnight on August 14, 1947, birthing two distinct nations in immediate succession.
Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi has also created an installation referencing partition, in this case Bangladesh’s partition in 1947 from India and again in 1971 from Pakistan, and the unsettled aftermath that ruptured not only the land and the lives of its people, but also the history and representation of the nation. Her bed of stainless steel razor blades, ‘Love Bed’ (2012), reflects on the gendered violence that was rife during both partitions. The bed is a shared space of domesticity, affection, and bliss that glints with both threat and invitation. The blade here represents not merely the violence implied by its sharp edge, but also the object’s function as a basic tool to aid in childbirth in the absence of other medical support, a circumstance that the artist recalls from childhood.
On until 16 February 2014.
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