The presentation aims to provide a survey of leading Indochina artists vis-à-vis the contemporary art practices of Natee Utarit, Svay Sareth and Wah Nu. While the traditionally-derived images that dominate popular forms of Indochina art – from monks to landscapes – are absent, the works in this presentation foreground other familiar tropes that have come to define the region; political authoritarianism and the anti-colonial legacy.
Anchoring the booth is Svay Sareth’s salient soft sculpture titled, The Heart Healer which is installed in the likeness of a religious statue within a temple. The sculpture is a representation of Svay’s mother which is materialised by a combination of camouflaged and civilian clothes. It is essentially a reminder of his failed escape attempt from the infamous Site-II refugee camp, when he was just 13 years of age, and more importantly, the immense regret of abandoning his mother. As a gesture of apology, Svay gifted his mother a bouquet of lilies.
The urgency of political reform is very much apparent in Myanmar and we are reminded that political authoritarianism is still very much a stigma in the region. In the midst of social upheaval, Burmese artist Wah Nu offers an avenue of release and focusing on one’s inner mind through her paintings. Her Cloud series, in a way, represents the social consciousness of the nation, where the act of painting becomes a way of relaxation and escape from the drudgery of the current situation. Her clouds float in a single sea of colour with no distractions in the background, invoking a sense of transcendence beyond the material realm.
Through his acclaimed Your Past is My Future series, Utarit continues his investigation of the relationship between European colonialism and Southeast Asian culture. Utarit focuses his attention on the dynamics through which the West has exerted its influence both on the style and on the art of Southeast Asia, with these new paintings he looks at the common aspects of different cultures. At the base of the new cycle of work, there is the awareness that it is possible to give new life to one’s own culture starting from the aspects shared with different cultures with a glorious past.
As rich and diverse the region may seem, this presentation hopes to reveal the juncture that Indochina contemporary art is currently at and its shared affinity of struggle, mission, and most importantly, hope.