Bad English: Can we really be friends?

An essay contribution in the catalogue of Ties of History: Art from Southeast Asia. 


The Philippines organizes an exhibition of contemporary art in Southeast Asia in Manila to mark the 50th year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Titled Ties of History: Art in Southeast Asia, it gathers ten artists to represent the member-states of the organization. Taken from the ASEAN Declaration in 1967, the phrase “ties of history” may allude to the blessings and burdens of being together and being different in a region that is thought to be shared. The works of the artists speak to this complex and productive condition as they express the many ways by which the various strands of subjectivity as citizen-artists weave and unravel in the project of making selves in particular places, making nations in an international world, and making regions across forests and islands in the geopoetic gestures of contemporary art. The Philippines chaired the 50th year of the ASEAN in 2017. Conceived as a collective, the ASEAN is the world’s fifth largest economy.

The artists of the exhibition are: Anusapati (Indonesia, b. 1957), Chris Chong Chan Fui (Malaysia, b. 1972), Roberto Feleo (Philippines, b. 1954), Amanda Heng (Singapore, b. 1951), Yasmin Jaidin (Brunei, b. 1987), Min Thein Sung (Myanmar, b. 1978), Jedsada Tangtrakulwong (Thailand, b. 1972), Do Hoang Tuong (Vietnam, b. 1960), Savanhdary Vongpoothorn (Laos, b. 1971), and Vuth Lyno (Cambodia, b. 1982).

As the artists configure the creative ecology of the region today, so do they scan the contours of art history from the seventies to the present. They reference specific moments of articulating this history through thoughtful reflections on cosmology, gender, memory, migration, nature, war, and everyday life.

The exhibition is a survey of contemporary art and a diligent study of artistic life. It selects three sets of practices from each artist in the effort to constellate endeavors in the field and not merely to collect isolated specimens from both art history and the art market. It tries to dwell on the sensitive process of artistic transformation and maturity and it affirms artistic practice to be not fully formed but rather emerging from situations of constant forming.

Ties of History presents the works of these artists in three spaces in Manila: the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the Yuchengco Museum, and the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum. This spread of the works across a sprawling and dense city enables the exhibition to be more attentive to the interests of each artist and to appreciate different relationships among forms in diverse settings of a modern and contemporary art museum, a corporate museum, and a university museum, respectively. These forms play out within a dynamic spectrum: painting and sculpture informed by academic formation and popular culture; installation from ingenious materials like sawdust and fabric; perforated canvas; video and performance; photography; drawing; sound scape. They are shaped by research, activism, cultural work, and intense translations of knowledge and experience in a region built on the great traditions, successive colonialisms, and hectic traffic of species and commodities.

Patrick D. Flores, curator of the Vargas Museum and recently appointed Artistic Director of the Singapore Biennale 2019, curates Ties of History. Advisors include Ahmad Mashadi, Head of the National University of Singapore Museum; Khim Ong, Deputy Director, Curatorial Programmes at Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, independent curator and writer; and Grace Samboh, independent curator and scholar.

The exhibition opens on August 8 (Metropolitan Museum of Manila), August 9 (Yuchengco Museum), and August 10 (Vargas Museum). The exhibition will be on view until October 6, 2018.

The project is directed by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) through the Dalubhasaan Para sa Edukasyon sa Sining at Kultura (DESK) with the support of the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.

Ties of History
Art in Southeast Asia
August 8–October 6, 2018

Metropolitan Museum of Manila
Yuchengco Museum
University of the Philippines Vargas Museum

Click here to read my essay

About Grace Samboh

Believes in unicorn, conviviality and the struggle towards collective subjectivities—even temporarily.
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