The biggest and most comprehensive show on Southeast Asian contemporary art in recent years, SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art from Southeast Asia 1980s to now is presented by SEA Project at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Center, Tokyo. This show features eleven Singaporean artists, namely: Amanda Heng, Lee Wen, Suzann Victor, Koh Nguang How, Lee Shengen, Ming Wong, Sheman Ong, Zulkifle “Zul” Mahmud, Ho Tzu Nyen, Boo Junfeng and Ho Rui An.
With 10 ASEAN countries, it seems like an impossible task to know and choose works for this survey exhibition. It is not known if the two institutions had even known the scale of what they had pledged to do from the start. Neither boasts a substantial Southeast Asian art collection. Nonetheless, the project marched on. In 2014, SEA Project was organised, including ten curators from the Japanese institutions and four curators from Southeast Asia, namely Merv Espina, Vera Mey, Ong Jo-Lene and Grace Samboh.
SEA Project set out to fill in the gaps in the institutions’ knowledge. To this end, the newly recruited team spent 2 and a half years conducting research in Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian art before unveiling SUNSHOWER. Meanwhile, their website had acted as a deposit of field notes, a delightful and rare insight into the work of a curator. It is a great example of what it means to do primary research in contemporary art and work remotely in a team. While Merv, Vera, Jo-Lene and Grace were based in Southeast Asia, they were not in the same country as each other or the Japanese curators, a familiar problem to collaborating art institutions. One method is through a dropbox utility. Unlike other projects, the SEA Project team had made their dropbox public, allowing us another look into the making of the exhibition.
Looking directly at the exhibition, SEA Project had accomplished quite a lot. Featuring “approximately 180 works by 86 artist groups from the 10 ASEAN countries,” the show is comprehensive in more than just geography. To take the example of Singapore, the artists chosen dabble across sculpture, performance, the archive, sound, photography, film, painting and installation.
Of note is Boo Junfeng, who is really more of an accidental artist whose first “artwork” was a commission by the Singapore Art Museum. We usually know him better for his films and as the only Singaporean filmmaker who has had two films accepted into Cannes Film Festival, the most prestigious film festival in the world. Last year, his second Cannes film, The Apprentice, premiered in Cathay Cineplexes, Golden Village and The Projector. In terms of art, his only non institutional show to date is with Pearl Lam Galleries Singapore, The Third Script curated by David H.Y. Chan. Those in Hong Kong between September to November will be happy to find know that The Third Script will be travelling to Pearl Lam Galleries’s SOHO space (22 Sep – 3 Nov ’17).
Another interesting artist is Zul, who represents the small but strong group of sound artists in Singapore. While local music seems to be going down (LUSH 99.5FM will be making its last transmission tonight), there remains a critical mass of expert musicians and sound technicians. Some of them have embraced the possibilities of contemporary art, to our fortune. Those who visited Singapore Biennale 2016 would remember Zul’s SONICreflections, which won the Soichiro Fukutake Prize, a prize that was literally set up for him. His work is definitely not something to leave out of a show that aims to trace the development of art in Southeast Asia.
If the case of Singapore is any indication, any supporter of Southeast Asian contemporary art should catch the show if they can. Hopefully, SEA Project will remain active and their obvious expertise will be used for further presentations of art to our benefit.
SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art in Southeast Asia 1980s to now
5 July to 23 October, 2017
Special Exhibition Gallery 2E, The National Art Center, Tokyo, and
Mori Art Museum
1,000 yen for a single venue, 1,600 yen for both venues
Special Exhibition Hall 2E, The National Art Center, Tokyo
Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558
Sundays and Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10am to 6pm
Fridays and Saturdays, 10am to 9pm
Closed on Tuesdays
Mori Art Museum
53F, Ropppongi Hills Mori Tower, 6-10-1 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-6150
Tuesdays, 10am to 5pm
Wednesdays to Mondays, 10am to 10pm
Exhibition travels to Fukuoka Asian Art Museum from 3 November to 25 December 2017