I think there are numerous contemporary Asian artists whose work interrogates the “modern” Asian experience. But the unyielding insistence on viewing the East as an unchanging repository of “tradition,” vis-à-vis the West as the legitimate home of “modernity,” has led the art world at large to overlook the practices of such Asian contemporary artists. When Der Blaue Reiter riff off of African objets d’art or Chinese paintings, we say, how original; we consign them to the avant-garde. But when an Asian artist references Fauvism or uses a motif of Kandinsky’s, we say, how derivative.
I believe that intelligent curatorial practice can contribute to how we look at cultures, how we interact with various cultures. At the same time, of course, curating is not a neutral exercise. Curating is my point of view, my interpretation of what is going on.
When I started producing exhibitions for institutions that were not from my own country, I had to take on a different position. I had to try and see what the region, these artists, and these works looked like through someone else’s eyes. At the same time, what was imperative to me was to challenge romanticized perceptions of the region.
It is not to deny that you see the Southeast Asian region as exotic.
But—I could very well think you are quite exotic as well.
See, it’s a matter of relativity, an impulse to return the gaze."
Virginia Woolf, from Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909 (Mariner Books, 1992)
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