BAKH BAKH, 1985/2015, acrylic and fabric on canvas, 90 × 90 × 12 cm. Courtesy Estate of Hassan Sharif and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai. 

Rebels with Causes

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No one knew what to expect when Donald J. Trump assumed the most powerful job in the United States. Even cynical observers had doubted that the US president would stick to the election platform of fear and bigotry that landed him in the White House. But the reaction from around the world—namely, the Women’s Marches across the US on January 21, and from governments as remote as Indonesia criticizing his executive ban against seven Muslim-majority countries—is evidence that there is committed resistance to Trump’s extreme agenda. Both politicians and ordinary citizens have shown peaceful opposition to the growing threat of ultra-nationalistic isolationism. In the March/April issue of ArtAsiaPacific, the editors consider artistic forms of nonviolent resistance to traditionalism, political regression and social intolerance.

We begin with the cover Feature on the late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif (1951–2016). In this tribute, AAP UAE desk editor Kevin Jones looks back at Sharif’s roles as both an artist and an educator who encouraged experimentation and challenged societal convention. As a pioneer of conceptual art in the young sovereign nation—long before events like the Sharjah Biennial and Art Dubai—Sharif unsettled the public with works such as a painting with a cloth over its bottom half, inviting viewers to lower the fabric as if revealing something forbidden. This was a radical gesture at a time when paintings of desert landscapes were the norm. Jones explains the strategies that Sharif employed in conservative 1980s UAE: “In his quest to develop—and loyalize—an audience, Sharif deployed a two-pronged ‘provoke and support’ approach . . . Far from provocations for provocation’s sake, these shows were sincere attempts to spark a dialogue.” 

In Lahore, Lala Rukh has also inspired a generation of artists with her interdisciplinary practice, combining studio-based work, socially engaged teaching at the National College of Arts, and advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan. AAP contributing editor Jyoti Dhar reflects on Rukh’s career of 40-plus years, beginning with her instrumental role in the Women’s Action Forum promoting equal rights across South Asia and as far away as Kenya. Dhar explains how Rukh’s activist pursuits inform her hauntingly elegant, minimal works, which incorporate ECG strips, hand-written letters and musical notations—and muses on what Rukh’s new work might explore when it is unveiled at Documenta this June.

From Hong Kong, reviews editor Brady Ng sits down with young multimedia artist Kingsley Ng to discuss his recent project Twenty-five Minutes Older (2016–17), which involves one of the city’s oldest forms of public transport, the tram. Inside a moving “ding ding,” Ng projected images of real-time street life and text from Liu Yichang’s 1972 novella Tête-Bêche  on the tram walls. The interactive work debuted at the “Human Vibrations” festival last May and will be restaged to mark Art Basel’s fifth edition in Hong Kong this March. Ng discusses the thinking behind this quietly ambitious project. For those who attend Art Basel Hong Kong, a detour outside the convention center will reveal a different, more varied cross-section of Hong Kong—from the gritty to the sleek.

Wrapping up the Features section, independent art scholar Giusi Daniele examines the work of Hong Kong conceptual artist Ho Siu Kee in our special column, Inside Burger Collection. At the center of Ho’s work since the 1990s has been the individual and the perception of self—constrained or liberated.

To mark the many art fairs that launch in March, our Profiles focus on six patrons active in the region: Manila-based businessman and former chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Jaime C. Laya; Jenny Wang, president of Fosun Foundation—Shanghai’s latest nonprofit art center; Sydney’s Clinton Ng, who earnestly donates or loans works from his collection to public institutions in Australia; Istanbul-based Agah U─čur, CEO of Borusan Holding, who both acquires and helps realize art projects; and two up-and-coming Hong Kong-based collectors, Evan Chow and Jin-Goon Kim.

For the Essays section, contributing editor Ingrid Dudek considers the murky world of art forgeries and authentication. In her rollicking commentary, she writes, “The high prices involved [in art] have compelled a cottage industry in measures of security and validation, be they price databases, artists indexes or simply an unhealthy auratic attachment to provenance and authorship.”

Elsewhere, in Fine Print, Singaporean art lawyer Ryan Su pushes for protective measures for art “connectors,” to ensure they get their fair share of revenue in the high-stakes art world. In The Point, Hong Kong’s most ambitious philanthropist Adrian Cheng—the brains behind the K11 Art Foundation—explains arts patronage in the 21st century. He writes, “Patrons should promote artistic freedom and resist the urge to dictate or condition the works to be created.” For One on One, Lantian Xie ruminates on Abu Dhabi-based writer Deepak Unnikrishnan’s debut novel Temporary People, an exploration of itinerant foreign workers in the UAE. In Reviews, Dominic Zinampan, recipient of the 2016 Ateneo Art Awards Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism, dives into the survey book No Chaos No Party: 28 Artists in Metro Manila.

Finally, for Where I Work, AAP visited the Ilsan studio of Dansaekhwa artist Ha Chong-Hyun, whose works from the 1970s—one of South Korea’s darkest political eras—testify to the various forms of nonviolent resistance by experimental groups who defied the dominant national discourse at the time. They, and many of the other artists included in this issue, remind us of Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.” 

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.