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Thinking from Asia: London, Asia, Art, Worlds conference

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An event as part of the multi-part conference programme 'London, Asia, Art, Worlds'

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Chair: Yeewan Koon (Associate Professor and Chair of the Fine Arts Department, University of Hong Kong)

12.00-12.15 Welcome & Introductions

12.15-13.00 Keynote Paper: Patrick Flores (Professor of Art Studies, Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines), ‘Aroundness, Awareness: To Rework Art Out of Asia’

13.00-13.15 Discussion and Questions

13.15-13.30 Break

13.30-13.35 Welcome back/Introductions

13.35-13.50 Amrita Dhallu (Curator and Researcher), ‘Subcontinentment: Diasporas, Futurisms, Worldbuilding’

13.50-14.05 Farida Batool (Independent Artist, Researcher and Educationist) and Sehr Jalil (Visual Artist, Researcher, Writer and a PhD Candidate), ‘Contesting Public(s) and Art Education in Pakistan’

14.05-14.20 Stephanie Bailey (Editor-in-Chief, Ocula Magazine), ‘Thinking Through Empire from Asia: An Object Lesson’

14.20-14.45 Discussion & Questions

14.45-15.15 Break

15.15-16.00 Conference wrap-up discussion with Hammad Nasar, John Tain, Ming Tiamp and Sarah Victoria Tuner

Paper Abstracts

Patrick Flores

What does it mean to index the world as coming out of Asia? The presentation revisits the question of location (‘out of’) as simultaneously a question of facture, or a rework, a migration of parts. It taps into the conceptual resources of the Philippine word kalibutan, which signifies at once cosmos and cognition. It is remarkable for a term to reference the conjuncture of locus and reflection, but also of the universe and the unknowing. Worth revisiting as well in the same vein are assessments of theory on Asia in terms of ‘inter-Asia’ and ‘Asian place’ and cognate aspirations in the fields of music, sports, and scouting in which the avant-garde in the sixties and collecting during the Pacific War come in contact. Within this constellation, the talk will speak to the various scales of worldliness as evoked by the papers for the session via the formations of the fair, the public, and the diaspora.

Amrita Dhallu

Subcontinentment, a term coined Himali Singh Soin, is a portmanteau of subcontinent and contentment, forming the basis of the artist’s manifesto for a South Asian futurism. Using Subcontinentment as a framework, this paper will explore how a futurist aesthetic expression has been embraced by diasporic artists in order to re-imagine ancestral lineages across space and time.

Subcontinentment unfolds over moments both present and absent. It is an alternative archive that prompts us to rethink our understanding of time. It calls on us to listen and communicate with other life forms so that we can become better ancestors for our future descendants. It presents an emerging generation of South Asian storytellers the ability to speculate and build new worlds, shaping the geo-poetic connection between London, Asia and the diasporic space beyond.

The practices brought together by this research embrace new artistic technologies in order to create an embodied experience of transgressing different boundaries – between geopolitical borders, personal and collective identities, human and non-human, and life and death. This movement seeks to disrupt conventional notions of remembrance, particularly through sonic and digital realms, to produce new archival forms of diasporic testimony.

Farida Batool and Sehr Jalil

Being rooted in almost two hundred years of a colonised past has historized the present and its ways of making meaning embedded within classical art appreciation in Pakistan. This paper aims to excavate newer art histories and its making in contemporary Pakistani art through a deeper reflection on interdisciplinary, collaborative and self-practice examples that are urgent to the political, social and cultural atmosphere by examining selective case studies of artistic, theoretical, academic practices and the becoming of the Awami Art Collective (public art practitioners), and the need for art in public space to generate a collaborative and subversive engagement with society. Both researchers are core members of the Awami Art Collective, and have been involved in teaching and designing cultural and art theory/history courses at NCA. By examining closely the experience of engaging with the public through public art projects and making sense of historical accounts in an academic institution like NCA, the researchers will introspect into a research dialogue to develop a nuanced framework for reading art history embedded within the socio-cultural fabric of Pakistan and to question how do alternate spaces (both within theoretical and public realm) dismantle, decolonize narratives in South Asia.

Stephanie Bailey

This paper, which explores the art fair as a site where legacies of colonialism converge, is situated between two propositions outlined by ‘London, Asia’: ‘Thinking through Empire: Imperial Histories, Object Lessons’ and ‘Thinking from Asia’. It focuses on Art Basel Hong Kong by tracing the fair’s origins back to Art Basel’s 1970 European inception, and connecting its evolution as a global brand with a historical precursor: London’s 1851 Great Exhibition of Works and Industry of All Nations. Regarded as the first World’s Fair, the 1851 Great Exhibition instrumentalised culture to assert the British Empire’s ambitions to consolidate a unified global economy over which it presided, producing racial and national hierarchies in the process. This history, which links to the biennale’s evolution, feeds into an art fair like Art Basel: a world-making space whose format, historically enmeshed in complex geopolitics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has been adopted by post-colonial contexts such as Dubai to assert non-aligned, post-western positions today. In this frame, Art Basel Hong Kong occupies a peculiar position as a western-branded, Asian fair – mirrored by the former British colony that hosts the event, now navigating re-assimilation into China, whose 2008 Olympic Games slogan, 'One World, One Dream’, echoes many a global superpower’s ambitions.

This study is somewhat personal, insofar as I am a Hong Kong-born Eurasian who finds in the art fair’s contradictory frame a reflection of my own entangled origins as a product of empire, and a lens through which to explore possible trajectories of decolonisation.

Image caption: Himali Singh Soin, we are opposite like that, film still, 2019. Digital image courtesy of Himali Singh Soin

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