Art & Design

Latest exhibition at National Gallery Singapore explores intersections between art and social activism in Asia

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s spotlights a critical turning point in Asia’s post-war history that saw artists and the public assert their identity and be change agents through art.

The period between the 1960s and 1990s was characterised by ideological confrontations, a rise in nationalism, rapid modernisation, and a wave of democratic movements across Asia. Significantly, it also gave birth to a multitude of experimental art practices as artists and the wider public were awakened to the emancipatory power of art to shape and assert their identities. Spotlighting this critical turning point is the latest exhibition at National Gallery Singapore, Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s, which will make its Southeast Asian premiere on 14 June 2019, following successful showings in Japan and Korea.

Tang Da Wu. They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink. 1989. Linen rhino, plastic bottles and axe, dimensions variable. Documentation of performance at National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, 1989. Performance © Tang Da Wu. Photo © Koh Nguang How; image courtesy of Koh Nguang How.

Featuring 142 provocative artworks by more than 100 artists from 12 countries in Asia, the exhibition is jointly co-organised by the Gallery, Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT), Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea (MMCA) and the Japan Foundation Asia Center. It chronicles one of the region’s most turbulent periods through a transnational artistic lens, with a focus on the radical qualities of experimental practices in Asia. Importantly, Awakenings outlines how artists questioned conventions and challenged those around them to assume new positions of criticality in society. Such social movements and concerns continue to be relevant today. Audiences are invited to re-examine their understanding of Asia over the three decades, which collectively saw the re-evaluation of politics, society, economics and culture. And through this explorative journey of deep introspection, reflect upon the role that art continues to play, in serving as an expressive tool that brings important social issues to the fore.

In Japan and South Korea, the Zero Jigen and minjung artists intervened into the daily routines of the city, respectively staging naked performances in urban spaces, and using art as agitation in the struggle for democracy. The Artists Village in Singapore advocated for socially engaged art, while KASIBULAN in the Philippines were trailblazers in raising awareness of issues such as gender relations and women’s liberation through their works. Students also expressed themselves through art, including activists in Thailand’s United Artists’ Front who opposed art produced for the capitalist interests of those in power.

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s is co-curated by Seng Yu Jin, Adele Tan, Charmaine Toh and Cheng Jia Yun from National Gallery Singapore, Suzuki Katsuo and Masuda Tomohiro from MOMAT, and Bae Myungji and Ryu Hanseung from MMCA. It will be on show at the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery until September 15, 2019.

Entry to the exhibition costs $15 for Singaporeans and permanent residents, and $25 for non-Singaporeans. 

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