MARISA DARASAVATH, Spirit Of Mother – Colourful Poppy, 2010, oil on canvas, 230 × 160 cm. Courtesy M Gallery.


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One of the few remaining one-party communist states, Laos lags behind its regional neighbors in physical infrastructure, and the autocratic government controls the media and monitors internet usage. Though the majority of cultural funding is devoted to the preservation of its ancient Buddhist heritage, Laos is also increasing support for living artists.

To that end, this year the Ministry of Information and Culture merged with the Lao National Tourism Administration to form the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. On May 25, the new body held the inaugural national artist awards at the National Cultural Hall in the capital Vientiane. Sixty-three artists in the fields of fine arts, performing arts and literature were awarded the title of National Artist, and 87 were named Prominent Artists; 38 of the awardees were women. Later in the year, the Ministry marked the completion of construction on the new National School for Art and Music, substantially funded by the Vietnamese government.

The National Faculty of Fine Arts (NFFA), in Vientiane, operates other schools in Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. The NFFA also houses the Lao Fine Artists’ Association (LFAA), run by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. The “Fifth Lao Women’s Art Exhibition: Art in Women’s Imagination” (3/15–25), co-organized with the Lao Women’s Federation, was held at the LFAA and featured contemporary paintings, prints, pottery and wood carvings.

Vientiane’s Institut Français hosted photographer Rasi’s intimate studies of the lotus plant and its life cycle (4/5–30), and the first “Manga Festival” (11/7–20), which included artist-in-residence events, as well as a drawing competition and book fair.

The commercial gallery scene consists of a few venues in Vientiane, most prominently M Gallery, whose “Sabaidee Duang Champa” (3/18–4/16) was a group show by Laotian and Thai artists marking the culmination of a three-year cultural exchange project, “Lane Xang Heritage,” which involved art teachers and students from the NFFA and the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Khon Kaen University, Thailand. The artist-run Mask Gallery primarily sells art by its founders, four NFFA faculty members. T’shop Laï and Treasures of Asia sell traditional crafts, but occasionally hold contemporary exhibitions.

In Luang Prabang, one-year-old Project Space exhibited embroidery and appliqué on cotton works by Hmong artist and shaman Phasao Lao (5/1–7/17). Later in the year, “Spirits-Houses, Rituals and Shadows” (9/15–10/16) featured the work of international artists Kees Sprengers and Ken Yarbrough, with emerging Lao photographer Ka Xion’s haunting series images exploring the spirit world. The group show “Across the Mekong” (10/21–11/27) showcased works by five contemporary artists from Thailand, including Maitree Siriboon, Chusak Srikwan and Pomprasert Yamazaki.

In the region, M Gallery’s Singapore branch organized “Voices” (1/21–2/28), with six Laotian artists, including painter Kongphat Luangrath and photographer and video artist Souliya Phoumivong. Later, Mick Saylom’s oil and ink on canvas works expressed the artist’s philosophical reflections on society (7/29–8/31). Also in Singapore, Phoumivong and Marisa Darasavath were nominated for the triennial Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize.

In Korea, Phoumivong and Phetmalayvanh Keobounma particpated in the “2011 ASEAN-Korea Contemporary Media Art Exhibition: Cross-Scape,” at Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul (9/22–10/8) which travelled to Jeonbuk Museum of Art, in Jeonju (10/28–11/27) and the GoEun Museum of Photography, Busan (12/17–2/26/12).

In Europe, Ka Xiong presented his “Spirit World” series at the third Photoquai Biennale (9/13–11/11) at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris. UK-based Vong Phaophanit and his long-time collaborator Claire Oboussier presented Mute Meadow, a “forest of light,” that opened on the banks of the River Foyle in Londonderry on June 25. The artist duo also completed an installation with 600 meters of white neon light for the New Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand, Norway; their permanent laser light installation on the seafront at Weymouth, Light Veils, will debut before the 2012 London Olympic Games.