Books and Mortar by Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong

Tarika Agarwal of Saffronart discusses the impact of a Mobile Art Library in Sri Lanka

Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Exhibition view. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Exhibition view. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

Mumbai: ‘Open Edit: Mobile Library’ is a traveling archive of contemporary art books drawn from the collection of Hong Kong based Asia Art Archive. The books will travel to locations around Asia, making it possible for broader audiences to access and interact with this unique learning resource beyond Hong Kong.

Preparations for opening of Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

Preparations for opening of Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

Following its first edition in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011, starting mid March all the way till early July, the library travels to Sri Lanka, making its first appearance in South Asia. When it was decided that the location would be Sri Lanka, Raking Leaves, an organization that commissions and publishes contemporary art projects was invited to act as its host.

It all begins in Jaffna, where the books will be housed at Christa Seva Ashram for three months, while the University of Jaffna’s Fine Arts (Art History) and Art & Design departments will integrate the library and its materials into their day-to-day curriculum activities. The project will be accompanied by a series of programs targeting artists, students, creative professionals, teachers, and academics. The project will also invite students and teachers from the Eastern University in Batticoloa and the Visual and Performing Arts University, Colombo, to utilize the rich array of materials in the archive.

Opening of Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

Opening of Open Edit: Mobile Library at Seva Christa Ashram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2013. Photo: Courtesy Raking Leaves

The opening of the Mobile Library was held outside the Ashram between the many trees on the ashram’s grounds. There were roughly 300 people who attended the event; a lot of them were students who were very excited with this opportunity that has presented itself to them. A lot of the people are still surprised with the idea that Jaffna could be a place where people or things of any importance come.

When the library moves on, and all the books disappear, its true impact will take time to register. Some of the books among the 400 titles that make up this ‘Mobile Library’ are Faith and the City: A Survey of Contemporary Filipino ArtA Strange Heaven: Contemporary Chinese PhotographyThe Geeta Kapur Reader; editions of YishuChina Post–1989Currents in Korean Contemporary Art; six years worth of Art Asia Pacific’s Almanacs” and 10 Years of Video Art in Indonesia 2000–2010. By the time the library closes and the books are returned to AAA Hong Kong, it is anticipated that the collection will have been seen by over 1,500 art and design students, art professionals, teachers and of course the members of the Sri Lankan public.

To learn more about this initiative, read an article by Sharmini Pereira, an independent curator and founder director of Raking Leaves on the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative Blog.

Nalini Malani on Thomas McEvilley (1939 – 2013)

Veteran artist, Nalini Malani pays tribute to the esteemed art critic, Thomas McEvilley, who recently passed away

Thomas McEvilley and Bhima (named for the second and strongest of the Pandava Brothers in the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Photo: Joyce Burnstein Image credit: The Huffington Post

Image credit: The Huffington Post

Mumbai: Thomas McEvilley, the internationally esteemed art critic, cultural historian, and scholar of Greek and Indian philology passed away on March 2, 2013. I was very saddened to hear of Thomas’ passing away. He was still young and had much to finish. We became friends since our very first animated, passionate and intense arguments during the days he visited me in my studio in Lohar Chawl, in the wholesale markets of Bombay in 1985.  And then we would pick up the thread whenever I met him in Johannesburg, New York, Amsterdam and Dublin.  His lifelong work “The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, 2001” is a compendium of deep research and knowledge and I have carried it with me since he gave it to me with a beautiful inscription in his own hand in Greek. Yes – the true scholar that he was – he was learned in Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. And I had heard him chant the Heart Sutra from the Buddhist scriptures, for his deceased friend, the artist James Lee Byars at the Appel in Amsterdam.

I wish I could chant the Heart Sutra for him in his passing.

Saffronart is thankful to Nalini Malani for sharing her thoughts. Thomas McEvilley is best known for his influential essays on contemporary art and criticism written over a span of twenty years for the trade journal, Artforum. He has written about Nalini Malani’s work since 1986 and has contributed  major essays to a monograph published by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (for Malani’s first major solo exhibition in Europe in 2007) and the Brooklyn Rail. His seminal work,  The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, mentioned above spans thirty years of  his research, from 1970 to 2000. In this book, McEvilley explores the foundations of Western civilization. He argues that today’s Western world must be considered the product of both Greek and Indian thought, both Western philosophy and Eastern philosophies. He shows how trade, imperialism, and currents of migration allowed cultural philosophies to intermingle freely throughout India, Egypt, Greece, and the ancient Near East.  A recently published  obituary of the critic in the New York Times credits him for being a vital alternative voice in the 1960s, when the art world was dominated by formalist thinking. McEvilley was also a distinguished teacher, lecturing art history at Rice University (1969 to 2004),  Yale University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He  founded the MFA program in Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2005, and served as the Department Chair there for three years. Learn more about Thomas McEvilley here

Harsha Dehejia’s New Book on Rasikapriya Paintings

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart recommends Dehejia’s latest book Rasikapriya

Rasikapriya, H. Dehejia

Rasikapriya, H. Dehejia. Image Credit: http://www.dkprintworld.com/pr
oduct-detail.php?pid=1280857190

London: Harsha Dehejia, a practicing physician and well known scholar of ancient Indian culture and Hindu aesthetics who teaches at Carleton University in Canada, recently published his latest work: Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love. This book brings together, for the first time, the full translation of the text in English and includes more than 470 illustrations of paintings related to it.

The rasikapriya is one of the main texts of mannered poetry, or ritikavya, which was composed by Keshavdas during the 17th century. Keshavdas was the court poet of Raja Indrajit of Orchha in Bundelkhand. The poet created short verses dedicated to and inspired by love, to which musicians and dancers at the court would respond in their own artistic ways. In addition, many artists produced beautiful miniature paintings to illustrate his words, which now enjoy pride of place in private and museum collections worldwide.

Some of Dehejia’s previous publications include The Advaita of Art, Parvatidarpana, Despair and Modernity, Leaves of the Pipal Tree, Parvati Goddess of LoveThe Lotus And The Flute: Romantic Moments in Poetry and Painting, Celebrating Krishna: Sensuous Images and Sacred Words, and A Celebration Of Love: The Romantic Heroine in the Indian Arts.

Like the rest of these books, Rasikapriya is definitely a ‘must read’, both for its literary and artistic value.

Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez on What it means to curate “Asia” from an American perspective?

Manjari Sihare shares an insightful article on transnational curating by  critic and curator Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez commissioned for the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Initiative on South East and South Asian Art

New York: I recently penned down a review of the exhibit, No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York until May 22, 2013, where I briefly commented upon the challenges of curating an “Asian” exhibit at an American museum. Here is an essay which casts a critical eye over the 1st edition of Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, from this perspective. Enjoy and to take part in the discussion, click here.

Parts and (W)holes by Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez

Mark Justiniani, Pillars, 2013. Reflective media, light fixtures, and objects, 45.7 x 274.3 x 144.8 cm. Photo: Courtesy Tin-aw Art Gallery, Makati City. Justiniani’s work adopts a godlike perspective to explore the changing skyline of a rapidly expanding metropolis. Image courtesy: The Guggenheim New York

Mark Justiniani, Pillars, 2013. Reflective media, light fixtures, and objects, 45.7 x 274.3 x 144.8 cm. Photo: Courtesy Tin-aw Art Gallery, Makati City. Justiniani’s work adopts a godlike perspective to explore the changing skyline of a rapidly expanding metropolis. Image courtesy: The Guggenheim New York

In this age of googling, maps (the paper kind) have turned into benign curios—crisp antique foldouts faintly smelling of gridded beginnings and endings. Even so, when the Guggenheim sets out to “MAP,” it ought not be much of a surprise that the art world’s knee-jerk territorial impulses go into hyperdrive. After all, in the Philippines, only six decades separate today from the symbolic descent of the stars-and-stripes, and the American military still visits way too often for prickly memories of a not-so-distant past to be completely erased. It’s not exactly yesterday, but the trail is still pretty warm.

At various junctures during and since World War II, the Philippine artworld has had to plod through now well-worn oppositions that come with its own requisite mapping: modern versus conservative, nativist social realist versus cosmopolitan conceptualist, all the facetious dualities that keep critical exchange colorful and emotional—but rarely productive. Some belated respite has come in the discovery that this neurosis was often shared across Asian borders, and even amongst the other Americas (themselves reckoning with pre- and postcolonial strains of resistance, the tug of roots and influences, and questions of authenticity—evocative pegs that reaffirm that these territories weren’t actually discovered, but merely chanced upon by some intrepid imperialist who couldn’t work a compass.

Maria Taniguchi, Untitled (Celestial Motors), 2012. Color video, silent, 6 min., 38 sec. Photo: Courtesy Maria Taniguchi. Taniguchi’s video uses tightly cropped compositions to parody a national icon, stripping away this flamboyance by breaking it up into abstracted fragments  Image courtesy: The Guggenheim New York

Maria Taniguchi, Untitled (Celestial Motors), 2012. Color video, silent, 6 min., 38 sec. Photo: Courtesy Maria Taniguchi. Taniguchi’s video uses tightly cropped compositions to parody a national icon, stripping away this flamboyance by breaking it up into abstracted fragments
Image courtesy: The Guggenheim New York

Of course, it isn’t as if we haven’t all been collectively trying to make peace with our accumulated psychological baggage. If your blood is a cocktail of Austronesian, Malay, Iberian, and Northern American DNA, you run with it. Yet there’s nothing like travel to impolitely shatter your illusions about how you stand—or think you stand—in relation to where you’re at. So it was when, three years ago, I signed up for an NEA fellowship and was promptly counted among the program’s non-native English speakers. There’s nothing like getting plonked into a category to ground you in the fact you’re not as white, nor as American, as you thought you were. (Of course I guiltily asked myself at the time, why did this profiling bother me to begin with?) Chalk one up for less than utterly successful neo-colonialism.

In 2006, when Pananaw, Philippine Journal of Visual Arts and Kakiseni, an online magazine based in Kuala Lumpur, were collaborating on a project, a Malay colleague asked me why the Philippines seemed so separate from “the rest of Asia.” In the context of a collaboration that prefaced the Documenta 12 Magazines Project, her question was framed by the perception that “our” art and culture appeared removed from an “Asian” sensibility rooted in European, as opposed to American, colonialism. Even as this query gives me pause today, much of my mental energy has shifted to other matters—how the now visibly overheating market and attendant literature reeks of ageism, and the dearth of critical discourse channels makes for problematic skews in the validation scape. These latter conditions play into my own skepticism about how the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative will get Asia “out there” in any truly “appropriate” way. I do draw comfort from how June Yap, its South and Southeast Asia Curator, admits that part of her job is to deal with exclusions that come with the daunting task of doing right by an intimidatingly vast number of artists and artisitic currents—much less countries—that are within the project’s purview.

What I’d like to know though is if she was enabled to spring any surprises, any ventures risky enough to stir the pot by way of targeting generational and art-historical blind spots? Given that so many of these “local” histories remain unwritten and that too much writing on contemporary art in the region is, however smartened-up, problematically complicit with the marketing of auctions and fairs, just how much is the Guggenheim willing to wager to make this work? Surely quick trips that only allow one to touch base with the usual suspects in a focus country doesn’t cut it? You’d think that if they’d taken this much time to come around to “contemporary Asia,” surely they could be more enterprising about negotiating contradictions and navigating under-researched terrain?

But perhaps Guggenheim UBS MAP and its aspiration to globality simply underscores problems familiar to anyone working the ground ‘in’ and ‘out’ of Asia—reckoning with how terms like nation and region signify differently from one juncture to the next. Where, for example, do countries begin and end given the present tumult over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands jointly claimed by China and Japan? And nearer my own backyard, what about the Paracels and the Spratlys, loci of territorial claims by at least six countries (the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei)?  Then too there is the ongoing violent tussle between Malaysia and the forces of the Sultan of Sulu. Not to belittle the painful histories that accompany such claims, but certainly they make a case for doubting that “MAP-ing” will make the Guggenheim any more “international” than its status as an American institution (with prominent global franchises) makes it fully representative of the entire United States.

When the Guggenheim pats itself on the back for conducting self-analysis, owning up to its roots in European modernism, and recognizing that, according to its own statement, the “impulse toward homogenization has been eclipsed by connected and conjoined localities,” all my cynical nerve-endings get tweaked. In acknowledging the fraught project of representation, the Guggenheim states a hope “to participate in rather than merely represent cultures around the world and in so doing map out a new art-historical model that is both integrative and contextual.” I have no doubt that Yap earnestly tries to tend to the contextual department, but I wonder how much leverage she was accorded, and how possible it was for her to break from the herd sensibility that plagues much of the global curatorium?

So what does this all have to do with regional art production? Everything, of course. Art’s production and circulation are inarguably bound up with how territories (not to mention national and regional egos) are inflated and deflated. The U.S. is playing a very late catch-up game by wooing (while also keeping at bay) the nebulous entity called “Asia,” and the odds are stacked against it. While noting how this bolstered emphasis on Asian culture is conflated with the overwhelming business that Asia represents, perhaps one may still hope that critical scholarship can also be given a leg up by broadening exchange beyond predigested art and ideas, and that space could be made for greater productive dissonance. In the end, we may still end up carving out our own self-interested spaces, but perhaps some collateral pleasure could come out of opening up to more than just tokenistic multiplicity and requisite pleasantries.

Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez is a critic, curator, and lecturer based in the Philippines.

Dr Malini Roy Introduces Indian Miniature Paintings at Saffronart

Elisabetta Marabotto shares a note on the talk by Dr. Malini Roy’s at Saffronart in London

Dr Malini Roy at Saffronart, London

Dr. Malini Roy at Saffronart, London

London: Last Wednesday, before Saffronart’s preview for its Auction of Indian Miniature Paintings and Works of Art, which will be held on 24-25 April, Dr. Malini Roy, the Visual Art Curator at the British Library, gave an overview on Indian paintings produced between the 15th and 19th century, which are also known as miniature paintings.

Dr Malini Roy and a packed house at Saffronart, London

Dr. Malini Roy speaks to a packed house at Saffronart, London

Although giving a brief overview of this topic is almost impossible, given the vast amount of material, the long span of time, and the wide geographical area it encompasses, Roy managed to examine the key sites where Indian painting flourished, their purposes and patronage.

First, 15th century Hindu and Jain manuscripts were taken into account, leading to the famous Mughal paintings which mainly developed in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. These included representations of the great Mughal conquerors, illustrations of Indian and Persian epics, and depictions of Indian flora and fauna.

Lot 1, Two Leaves from a manuscript of Firdousi's Shanama

Lot 1, Two Leaves from a manuscript of Firdousi’s Shanama. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8335

After the great schools of Mughal art, Indian painting in the Deccan area was discussed. There, portraiture was one of the most popular themes which showed both Mughal and Dutch influences.

Lot 3, A Portrait of a Princess

Lot 3, A Portrait of a Princess. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8337

Compared to Mughal and Deccani paintings, Rajasthani paintings are more difficult to classify because of the many courts producing art using disparate styles of which Mewar was the most prolific. However, at the beginning the Rajasthani School was influenced by 15th and 16th century Hindu and Jain paintings, but slowly moved to illustrating Indian epics, Hindi poetical works and portraying Rajput rulers.

Lot 4, An Illustration from a Poetic Album, Possibly the Sarangadharapaddhati

Lot 4, An Illustration from a Poetic Album, Possibly the Sarangadharapaddhati. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8338

The paintings from the Punjab Hills, drawing elements from both Mughal and Rajasthani traditions, traditionally focus on topics such as the great Indian epics and portraiture. These paintings were often inscribed in languages that are now difficult to read.

Lot 15, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman worshiped by a Sikh Ruler, Punjab Hills

Lot 15, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman worshiped by a Sikh Ruler, Punjab Hills. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/customauctions/PreWork.aspx?l=8349

Lastly, Company Paintings, which developed during the British presence in India, were mentioned. This school is renowned for the adaptation of European style and the production for European patronage and the market there. Illustrations depicting Indian trades and occupations were made as well as natural history drawings representing Indian flora and fauna. Despite the uniformity in the themes represented, the artistic styles differed from region to region.

You can view some great examples of these schools of painting on the Saffronart website and in the Saffronart gallery in London.

Here’s a recording of Dr. Malini Roy’s entire talk:

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