Sunday, November 14, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Asian Women’s Aesthetics in 21st Century Contexts

I was co-curating for main exhibition of "International Incheon Women Artists' Bienniale" The exhibition was held on 1-30 august 2009 in Inchoen City, Seoul, Korea.

This is an article I wrote about the show. Hope it helpful for those who interested in female artists.  English editor: Eva M. Pascal and Philip Jablon


The Adventures of the Women in Black, Hamra Abbas
Asian Women’s Aesthetics in 21st Century Contexts

In a period where feminism has diverse points of view, the exhibition “So Close Yet So Far Away” aims to display contemporary visions of women through visual art embedded in contexts of age, nationality, race, religion, politics, social status and culture. This project focuses on women in specific cultural situations instead of creating a misleadingly universal conversation. Through the exhibition, I would like to illustrate the strategies and perspectives of today’s Asian women in works by significant female artists from Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, as well as Asians living in other continents. To give details about these, I categorize the artists into three broad topics, women’s voices, self expression, and reflections beyond gender.

Hearing women’s voices
Hamra Abbas, Pakistan-Kuwait-USA
At the entrance to the biennial, viewers confront a picture of masculine woman with oily black skin, strong eyes, and a weapon in her hand. It is a poster of an animated movie, “The Adventures of the Women in Black,” currently in production. Abbas creates new vision of the female super-hero who has a playful and madcap character as a 'public intervention' monument.  Abbas, a Pakistani, celebrates Muslim women’s militancy within a culture of escalating male violence. Abbas was awarded the Jury prize at the 9th Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates this year. This award signals growing space for female expression, and even aggression, in Muslim countries.

Goddess of Flower, Sangeeta Sandrasegar

Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Australia-Malaysia-India-England
Phoolan Devi, a famous Indian female bandit turned politician, inspires Goddess of Flower, a delicate wall paper-cut by Sangeeta Sandrasegar. She adapts this theme for the biennial with 25 pieces based on the size and shape of her body, an examination of the last five years of her life. She sees herself playing multiple roles as sister, daughter, partner, artist, and cross-cultural interloper.  She uses her shifting perspectives to explore the complex identities of modern Asian women, interrogating her own subjectivities to understand those of others. 

It is significant that Abbas and Sandrasegar, the South Asians, include similar images of struggling women in their works.

Mella Jaarsma, Netherlands-Indonesia
With 17,508 islands, 300 ethnic groups, and742 languages, Indonesia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries. However, minority ethnic groups are often discriminated against by the dominant domestic Javanese. Dutch-born Mella Jaarsma, who has lived in Indonesia since 1984, believes minorities in Indonesia need a public voice to ensure their survival. In this exhibition she presents her latest two works. The first is a video about a Papua woman who constructs her identity as an artist called “Michaella Jarawiri”. The work encourages Papua women to assert themselves and exposes government discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Zipper Zone, Mella Jaarsma
In the second work, audiences can interact with the installation “Zipper Zone,” which includes a live performance. The artist turns her attention to the cyber world, and transforms technological simulations into physical reality, concealing and revealing zipper walls. She compares “Zipper Zone” to city life in which crowds, objects, and information are devoured. Additionally, she builds an online community where you can find notes and collections.  In cyberspace, Jaarsma has expanded her ideas to the world beyond Indonesia.

All is Fair in Which Magic White, Archana Hande
Archana Hande, India
To parody the skin-whitening trend among naturally tanned-skin women, Archana Hande   shows a woman presenting a whitening cream in a wall paper with a video installation. Hande combines beauty parlor advertisements from Mumbai in “All is Fair in Which Magic White.” On one reading, the advertisements’ idealize, or surrender to, ideological colonization that asks natives to judge their bodies by alien standards of beauty. Alternatively, this phenomenon can be seen as a form of empowerment: modern women may choose to alter their “natural” ethnic appearance according to their own ideals.
Pinaree Sanpitak, Thailand
Breast Stupa Cookery, Pinaree Sanpitak
Thai women involved in the sex tourist trade have become a cliché to western eyes. Since the Vietnam War, Thai women have often been labeled as prostitutes, especially when traveling abroad. In this context, there is a need to create different pictographic perspectives of Thai women.  Pinaree Sanpitak uses female bodies, particularly breasts, as metaphors for gender issues, a signature in her works.  Sanpitak’s ongoing collaborative art project “Breast Stupa Cookery”, launched in 2005 with both professional and amateur artists, has opened new interpretations of breast+stupas.  In the biennial, she will welcome audiences to create “fusion Ice scrape”, combining Thai and Korean ingredients in aluminum foil mold. While a breast shape represents the female being, she shapes it to resemble a holy stupa, identifying women with sacred power.  According to the feminist scholar Julia Kristeva, symbols and language inspire new and multiple meanings; for example, breasts are not solely a symbol of motherhood. The breast+stupas ice scrape not only provokes sensations of delight, sweet and cold, but it also revels in temporarily.  Sooner or later the form is going to melt and, having created it, we will deconstruct it with a scoop and eat it.



Fuyuko Matsui

Fuyuko Matsui, Japan

There is female’s strength and power that restores her identity through art works by Fuyuko Matsui. She uses painful physical and physiological methods to display the inner strength, beauty and erotic power of the female form. The powdered mineral pigments on Silk work “Nyctalopia (2005), show a women with pale skin and long black hair garroting a chicken. C.B. Liddell, a Tokyo-based writer, editor and cartoonist, describes the piece this way: “Matsui connects this to emotional numbness caused by pain or overexposure of the emotions, hence the poker-faced callousness of the woman’s action.Matsui transforms an image of women’s oppression – at work in the kitchen – to one of frightening power. Her subjects invariably commit such outrageous and surprising acts.

(more in the next post)


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