Review: Mapping Asia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 10:01am

Mapping Asia
Asia Art Archive
Until August 29 

European exploration and cartographic inquiry in the 16th century led to the first recorded notation of "Asia" as a large landform. Two centuries later, this broad-brush, homogenous label also covered the area's geopolitics and varied cultures.

The later consequences of Asia's colonial subdivision - nationalism in reaction to subjugation and Japanese promotion of "Pan-Asianism", contradicted by its own imperialist ambitions - continue to influence today. The redrawing of Asia's post-war political boundaries, war, socialist and democratic ambitions, and economic expansion has forced a more nuanced reading of the region.

The stimulus for this exhibition is the question most frequently asked by visitors to the Asia Art Archive: how does it define Asia? How is contemporary Philippine art, Pakistani art, or art from Iran considered by an archive located in Hong Kong, China?

The question structures the exhibition's tentative exploration of answers. This display is an all-embracing, holistic discussion about Asia supported by writing in a thoughtful catalogue, documentation and videos.

It maps links between culture, politics and physical landscape alongside examples of modernist and contemporary art. The viewer is offered alternative readings of Asia as a step to further research - which can easily be done within the archive.

British artist Tom Molloy's Borderline is a small globe of the world hung amid the archive's book racks (below). The world's entire geography is blanked out on the globe, except for the artificial political borders between countries, the man-made barriers of defence.

A tension running through the exhibition is the exploration of the struggle to retain a cultural identity. Influential Bengali poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore exhorted that modernism was "freedom of mind, not slavery of taste" and "independence of thought and action, not tutelage under European schoolmasters".

A century later, artist-writer Rasheed Araeen says only art "can confront neo-imperialism and offer a model of decolonisation".

"Moreover, art is concerned with making things and thus can enter the every day and become part of its collective productivity. Only through collectivity we can win the struggle," he says.

This should be kept in mind when globalisation's advance has its inevitable stumble.

John Batten