In the summer of 2017, the National Art Center, Tokyo, the Mori Art Museum, and the Japan Foundation Asia Center will co-organize an exhibition that revisits the development of contemporary Southeast Asian art from the 1980s to the present.
The curatorial team for the exhibition consists not only of the Japanese curators from the two museums but also four Southeast Asian curators of the recent generation—those born after the 1980s—to help provide a deeper understanding required for an exhibition of such a wide theme.
Having engaged in discussions, the curatorial team realized that many current issues of interest come to the fore: the numerous engagements of art collectives to preserve or rediscover cultural memories and values of local communities and provincial towns amidst the development of urbanization and modernization, the performative activities based on DIY-spirit to self-initially bring about change despite the lack of sufficient public and institutional support for the contemporary arts, and, furthermore, the strong will to pass on the development of contemporary art in each area to the proceeding generations through education and archival engagements. All of these can be witnessed in the regions, resonating among each other amidst the multilayered histories embedded deeply in each of the respective countries.
From the research trips since January 2015, the team not only saw the obvious progressivist, economic development, but also a positivist attitude to the "present/current" societal conditions that still continue to be fraught with changes of stagnation, regression, reform, loss, and transposition.
While continuing these research trips into the year 2017 and deepening our communication with professionals of the region, we will explore the ways in which we can share, with Japanese audiences, the many paths the contemporary arts of this region lead throughout the last few decades.
As a part of the project, we will share with the audience the preparation processes and collected information of Southeast Asian contemporary art on this website. By this, we hope it will provide the groundwork for the further understanding of the various artistic practices within each of their respective regions, as well as offer a glimpse into the processes by which an exhibition is constructed.
About the Project Title
Instead of deciding on an exhibition title at this stage, the curatorial team agreed to have a project title, "SEA PROJECT: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now."
Discussions about the exhibition title exposed an extremely interesting difference among the curators regarding the conception of "Southeast Asia" and "ASEAN." While curators in Tokyo preferred using "Southeast Asia" which is more familiar to the Japanese audience, the curators from Southeast Asia strongly preferred "ASEAN" as it was a self-determined notion and more organically infused in their cultures.
The discussion regarding the conception and use of "Southeast Asia" or "ASEAN" still continues: how can this conceptual discrepancy between the Japanese and Southeast Asian curators be reconciled? And how will it be incorporated into the title and exhibition itself in conjunction with the research trip findings? A truly collaborative work from the ground-up, the exhibition will surely be a challenge for the team but will produce valuable results for both art professionals and the general audience in Japan.