Blame it on the monkey. As 2016 approached, many people—particularly those who follow the Chinese lunar calendar—were apprehensive. For 2016 was the Year of the Monkey—that wily creature that is always looking to disrupt, just for the fun of it. And sure enough, the last 12 months have witnessed plenty of mischief, mayhem and malfeasance.
For those who don’t follow the pseudoscience of the zodiac—instead having faith in either facts or conspiracy theories (or both)—2016 felt like one big systems glitch. Much of the news, particularly from the political realm, was mind-boggling. And it monopolized conversations off and online, and often seemed too Orwellian to be true. What is actually going on between the United States and Russia? What role does Julian Assange play in all this? Or could it be hackers in North Korea? Is global warming really happening, or did China actually dream it up for their own benefit? Is climate change the new Cold War? Have we actually become a post-truth society?
Regardless of whether you still believe in journalism and the idea that the news is a public good, 2016 was a year of upheaval and social discontent. From the Philippines to the US, it was a seemingly endless series of upsets for the political establishment in nearly every corner of the globe and new beginnings for upstart rulers. While many countries feel the need to gaze inward and retreat from the interconnected world, there are still advocates who believe in pluralism. Some of the most vocal opponents against an increasingingly xenophobic atmosphere are artists and curators who champion the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints.
In ArtAsiaPacific’s 12th edition of the annual Almanac, questions of where the world is heading have dominated. Unlike in any other volume, the art world figures whom we invited to reflect on both the year that just passed and what 2017 might look like, all expressed the need to resist the current political climate—in their respective countries as well as regionally and internationally. From New Delhi, Ram Rahman, acclaimed photographer and founding member of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, writes of the dark shadows that the Indian government casts over the world’s largest democracy and its implication on the cultural ethos of his country. In Bangkok, Gridthiya Gaweewong, the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center, explained how she counters the increasingly nationalistic discourse in Thailand by encouraging more partnerships and dialogue with neighboring institutions in the region. Bige Örer, the director of the Istanbul Biennial, ponders strategies and tactics for surviving in an unstable, and at worse, isolated environment. Shanghai Himalayas Museum director Yongwoo Lee considers the present state of biennials—after a busy year of festivals across Asia, and as we approach Venice and Documenta—and notes that some 300 biennials were formed over the last two decades, a period of dynamic artistic exchange. And from New York, Yukie Kamiya, the director of the Japan Society Gallery, discusses what it means to program diversity in arts institutions in the US, despite an incoming president who campaigned, and won, on a platform of fear and intolerance.
Fortunately, there wasn’t only bad news in 2016. The year also ushered in many exciting artistic happenings around the region, which are detailed within the following pages of the Almanac, an enormous effort that uncovers all the activity of 53 countries from Turkey to New Zealand. Despite being plagued by political scandal at the highest levels, South Korea had an energetic year hosting its many homegrown biennials along with the opening of new and renovated art spaces, including Platform-L Contemporary Art Center in upscale Gangnam and the beloved Art Artsonje Center in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood. Hong Kong got a sneak peek of M+’s growing art holdings through its two major exhibitions: one a historic survey of contemporary Chinese art comprised of Uli Sigg’s major donation to the museum, and the other a fascinating mix of design objects from across Asia. It also unveiled its first permanent structure on the actual grounds of the West Kowloon Cultural District, dubbed the M+ Pavilion. West Asia witnessed the launch of the Palestinian Museum in May and welcomed the third edition of the Qalandiya International, an important event for both artists and arts organizations across the region. In Pakistan, the final preparations are being made for the inaugural Lahore Biennale, which opens later this year. Despite any angst one might have experienced this year, by traversing the many art scenes profiled in the Almanac, you’ll be encouraged by the atmosphere of creativity and imagination fostered by collaborations occurring among artists, galleries and institutions, close and far. So believe it not, these positive things happened and are happening. It’s not just hopeful thinking.
The Almanac is a unique endeavor that systematically maps all the artistic activity occurring across the region—from countries, both big and small, with or without arts funding or an art market—to cast a light on the evolution of these creative communities in a transformative time. The rigorous complexity of this research could not be done without the collective spirit of our editors and many contributors, with their special knowledge and access to their respective art scenes, helping us embark each year on producing an archive of events, along with a forecast of things to anticipate in the coming year.
The idea of sociopolitical glitches taking place over the last 12 months was the inspiration for this year’s Almanac cover design by AAP’s art director Marta Grossi, designer Jen Kwok and photo editor Jessica Keung. Planet Earth is still there, fully intact—but the transmission has been temporarily disrupted.
While the world as a whole looks forward to a new year, the Year of the Rooster, who is alternately hardworking and vainglorious, whether zodiacal or politically speaking, the editors at ArtAsiaPacific still believe in facts and the free, unobstructed flow of information and creativity. We’re planning to stay right where we are, making sure the lines of connections between the many places we cover are as rich and clear as they’ve ever been.
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