“Telah Terbit” (Out Now): Southeast Asian Contemporary Art Practices During the 1970s

Out of the way; worth to see the works, but not the clueless black wall

This is an exhibition about seminar works from the Seventies, representing a clash of ideologies of artists, with new found knowledge from the West either by being there or from other means of communication, and their acceptance of ‘new media’ challenging batik painting, handicraft and status quo of the traditional arts. The curators have spent a lot of effort in the logical placement of works, siting relevant works by nationality near each other. The walls and display cabinets for ‘deconstructed’ book-form-but-laid-out-to-dry-text are very well built, and does surprisingly change the space, positively. The black wall that starts the exhibition is clueless, unfriendly, and hugely over amibitious to track trends and influences in Southeast Asia. It falls flat on it’s face, metaphorically, and one wonders what is omitted. For example, in 1965, the independence of Singapore is not mentioned.

The title is actually very apt, but easily construed as ‘clueless’, mis-leading, or at best mis-read. The title, I think, tries to convince ‘A truth is out now’. Our Modernism, as we possibly can understand it, existed because of a Western written, theorised, published, re-published, written-to-near-death Modernism. And all the accolades have been awarded by Western art curators and critics, because English is one of the ligua franca of the art world.

Today, We the Post-65 generation, have all assumed that the West came, everybody suddenly wanted to make art and We (art smugs?) call it post-modernism as quickly as we can, because of post-colonialism, because of post-world war 2. But because we never read anything sensible from artists living in that time.

Curators from SAM, have been more keen to publish thematic, and summative, all applauding publications of Southeast Asian Art, omitting artists’ voices. I’m refering to the likes of Imaging Selves. Few has directly acknowledged the influence of Southeast Asian artists, on their counterparts in their respective countries. Were these documented by artists? The text, is all important because it literally goes down in history. Did our modernist artists write well?

The truth is out because they did write about their own art practices, and in its own subtle nuances, distinguished in its autonomous effort to make sense of our own art history. This exhibition will ‘suggest’ a favourable light, leaving me curious to think of other omissions.

I’m a huge fan of Cheo Chai Hiang and Redza Piyadasa. I’m a fan of certain strands of art history, and I’m curious about the links between contemporary art practice today and the concept of Western Art Historical Hegemony. This exihibition was just right for me, but on the dull side for those unappreciative of the concept of art development. Telah Terbit is a reminder of such, a good contrast to the hip Singapore Biennale, if only more saw it in this light.

3.0 of 5 Stars

Singapore Art Museum

till Nov 12, 2006

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