Seeker of Hope: Works by Jia Aili

a caution in the wind of industrialisation

Seeker of Hope by Jia Aili

There is much to admire in the works of Jia Aili: the scale, the realism (rather than romanticism, in my opinion), and the assimilation of of the grand narrative, told through contemporary eyes from the world’s global factory, China. While we cringe at the painting’s imagined destruction and detritus left  from the world’s zealous consumption, we need to think about our own material trail. We  need only to look around us, to find similar disregarded, disused and discarded electrical appliances.

There is also a sense of bleakness in the paintings, a doomed future forewarned. In many paintings, a lone figure treads the surface. The face is deliberately obscured by turning away, or hidden by a helmet or full face mask. The anonymity allows us to sympathize with the figure, and even project ourselves in its shoes.

Yet we are numbed by the bleakness, seen often in contemporary Chinese paintings, such as those by Zeng Fanzhi. These paintings, anchored in their geographical and social contexts, could possibly seem contrived to an unsympathetic and unconvinced audience: art, circulated within its own consumeristic market appears hypocritical if it criticized consumerism without reflecting on it’s own position. What good is art, or what can art do, in the light of industrialization?

While these questions remain unanswered by the artist, presumably the seeker of hope referred by the title of the exhibition,they remind me of Dutch still lifes–vanitas–from the 1600s; as memento mori, these paintings remain as reminders of our mortality, more so than beacons of hope.

7.0 of 10 Stars
6 July to 23 September 2012, Singapore Art Museum


Note: auspicium melioris aevi – Latin for “hope for a better age”, or an omen of a better age; motto of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, incidentally adopted as the school motto of Raffles Institution (Singapore).

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