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28 January 2007, The Jakarta Post

Past and present merge to tell our stories

Cynthia Webb, Contributor, Brisbane, Australia.

During the first weekend of December 2006, creativity and celebrations burst forth on the South Bank of the Brisbane River as the city opened an impressive new landmark on the cityscape.

Situated opposite the central Brisbane high-rise business district, is the A$107 million, five-level Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). The refurbished State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Museum, and the Performing Arts Center are all together on the South Bank site alongside the two Art Gallery buildings.

South Bank public parkland adjoins them. It is "one of the most comprehensive cultural precincts anywhere in the world," according to gallery director Doug Hall.

Guests explored the exhibits in both galleries, and gasped at the architecture of the GoMA building, by Kerry and Lindsay Clare of Sydney-based firm Architectus, who in 2002 were the winners of an international design competition.

It features a glass roofed central atrium, which gathers in the dazzling Queensland sunlight and redirects and diffuses it, by bouncing it at right angles off vertically suspended large baffles.

Beside the Brisbane River, looking across to the city, GoMA features public areas and cafes with expansive views of the river, meandering its way through the city to the Pacific Ocean, in sweeping curves.

GoMA also has the first two-theater Cinematheque in an Australian Art Museum, and this is intended to be a venue to explore the role of video and cinema in modern art, as distinct from cinema purely for entertainment.

In the future it will present retrospectives and thematic film programs and exhibitions, and during the APT5 will show the work of seven international filmmakers. A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the French New Wave cinema is planned for 2007.

There is a Children's Art area and 13 of the artists participating in the APT5 have also created special interactive art works for children. The children's program aims to nurture creativity, to familiarize them with art museum environment and encourage them to express their own artistic inspirations.

On the opening weekend many children were making the most of all the exciting activities being offered to them and for two weeks in January 2007 a "Summer Spectacular" of children's art activities was scheduled.

It is fitting that GoMA has opened showing the fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, (APT5). The six-month-long Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art is one of the international art world's leading events. The only such event to focus on the contemporary art of the Asia-Pacific region, it was initiated by the Queensland Art Gallery in 1992.

Although the APT is a leading "contemporary" art exhibition, quite a large proportion of the artists have taken their inspiration and methods and themes from their own traditional background and histories, to create their "contemporary" artworks, communicating that we are our past and our present.

The contemporary collection period is defined by GoMA as beginning in 1970.

Masami Teraoka (Hawaii, U.S./Japan) has painted modern social commentary into visually ravishing works painted in a style that draws on the Ukiyo-e style of Japanese Woodblock prints of his mentors, Katsushika Hokusau 1760-1849, and Utagawa Kunisada, 1784-1864).

Telling a story

Included in the classical looking works, you will find articles of modern life, a McDonald's hamburger, condoms, swimming goggles, Nike joggers -- and each work tells a story.

John Pule, born on the small Pacific atoll of Niue, now living in Auckland, New Zealand, has shown us the traditional Polynesian mythology and motifs and method in two "hiapo" (bark) works or tapa cloths.

Nusra Latif Qureshi's (born in 1973) exquisitely detailed works are created in the very exacting process of traditional miniature painting, from Pakistan, India, Iran. She draws on images and methods from Mughal or Rajput times, using gouache, ink, graphite, silver and gold leaf, on wasli paper. Her contemporary work discusses issues relating to women, past and present.

Khadim Ali lives in exile in Pakistan, but is one of the Hazara people of Afghanistan. He has created a series of works in traditional methods, in gouache on wasli paper, telling the story of Rusdam, a flying hero in a historical epic poem, Shah-nameh (or the Epic of Kings), written by Abu al-Qasim Firdausi, who is the Homer of Iran, in the 10th century.

The Taliban, who tormented the Hazara people, liked to identify with this character. Khadim also asked the children living in the war zone of Bamiyan, to make drawings for a children's drawing project.

Bamiyan is the location where the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddha figures, to the horror of the helpless outside world who saw it on their TV screens.

The children drew the Taliban as demons, so from this, Khadim, who is trained in the practice of Persian manuscript painting, was inspired to create his own set of exquisite miniatures showing Rusdam in demon form.

The Afghan children's works are also on exhibition, beautiful and harrowing, depicting their daily lives. They do not know anything about normal children's entertainment.

The five large works by Yoo Seung-ho (Korea), appear to be in the traditional style of old Korean landscape painting, with brush and ink wash, but if one looks closely, it becomes clear that they are actually composed of millions, of hangul characters (native alphabet of Korea), and English alphabet letters.

The variation of their density creates the impression of pictures of mountains, waterfalls, trees and clouds. This is an incredibly painstaking process for the artist, his signature mark.

Five large bark paintings in natural ochers of deep red, tan and yellow are both contemporary and traditional. It is an ancient method, by the Australian Aboriginal artist Djambawa Marawili, a member of the Madarra people.

Aboriginal art collection

The gallery has an impressive collection of other Aboriginal art from this, the oldest culture of all. The Aboriginal dreamtime history goes back by up to 60,000 years, undisturbed until 1788, when the First Fleet of settlers arrived from England.

Some of the artists whose work is truly contemporary include Anish Kapoor (India), who has made brilliantly colored installations with pigments, and sculpted forms, which play tricks on the senses.

Rashid Rana (India) has made four mind-boggling digital photographic images, which look like portraits, a crowd scene, or the surface of the ocean, from a distance. As you walk closer you see that they are made up of millions of pixel-like tiny images, one centimeter square stills from Bollywood movies.

He has envisaged and controlled the tonal values so that this visual trick succeeds brilliantly. These works take your breath away by their sheer complexity.

The APT also features several large-scale displays by photographic artists, including Japan's Tsuyoshi Ozawa, China's Yang Zhenzhong, and Tran Quoc Hai of Vietnam.

The latter's work refers to the image of the helicopter, as a powerful memory in the Vietnamese psyche, after what they call "The American War".

Another Vietnamese artist, Dinh Q Le, born in 1969, has made a confrontational and powerful work, Damaged Gene. This is an installation behind glass comprised of displays of custom-made distorted baby clothing, and pacifiers for conjoined twins, accompanied by little joined figurines.

These clothing items are labeled with the names of the chemical corporations who manufactured the dioxin known as Agent Orange, which was deployed by U.S. forces from 1961 to 1971, and has tragically affected three generations with birth defects.

There is one artist from Indonesia, 29-year-old Eko Nugroho, who comes from Yogyakarta. Eko's gigantic 18 meter by 12 meter, black and white mural work is the first thing one sees on entering the main foyer.It is entitled It's All About Destiny, Isn't It?

His work is boldly drawn in `comic-book/cartoon' style, and he mentioned being inspired by the American cartoon/comic book artist, Robert Crumb. He explained the theme of the work as his commentary on the local sociopolitical situation, as far as he'd learned it on his first visit to Australia and after only one week here.

It is an image of robot spacemen arriving in the desert and the reaction of the indigenous people, to this invasion of strangers. He shows them lying at the base of the picture, "but not dead, just waiting for their time to come again," Eko assured. There is also another colored wall mural, and several textile art works by Eko also in the show.

APT5 shows that contemporary art is actually a forum for both past and present to come together in new and exciting ways, as artists contemplate their own place in time. There is so much more to see than is mentioned above.

(The APT5 is at GoMA until May 27. A full list of the 37 participating artists is available on the website along with further information and a slide show. Click on www.asiapacifictriennial.com)