Friends of Gaya
Gaya Ceramic

"Foot Bridge: Building Bridges thru ART '09"

4 February - 4 March, 2009
Group Exhibition of 15 artists from 5 countries in Asia

The Bridge of Identity
By Hardiman
Identity is a chain link that connects the socio-cultural values of the past with the ones of the present.
Jonathan Rutherford, 1990.

As we observe the works displayed and the artists participating in this exhibit, all of sudden we are being overwhelmed by the urge and curiosity to comprehend the nature of identity. It is a reasonable curiosity given the fact that the participating artists hailed from China, , Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The Chinese artists are Cui Xianji, Luo Qi, Wang Hua Xiang, and Zhang Haizhou, Xiang Qing Ren; from Korea Helen Kim; from Malaysia Abdul Rani Majid, Chong Hip Seng, and Dr. M. Najib A. Dawa; from Thailand Thanakorn Sila Boonrat, Muhamad Rajana-Udomsat, and Satawat Chuaynum; and from Indonesia Antonius Kho, Achmad Soepandi, dan Anas Etan.

The artists? diverse and different cultural backgrounds have made the urge to comprehend identity, the curiousity on identity, a valid and relevant issue.

Let us put our faith in Chris Barker?s definition on cultural identity as the image of meanings that reveals the thing pertaining to self-nomination or the perception of others. Cultural identity is closely connected to the loci of cultural meaning, particularly class, gender, race, ethnicity, nation and age. Identity, Rutherford says, is immediately interpreted as an effort in the past that is linked with the present, and probably with the future. From social context, identity is related to a shared ownership in and by a community. Naturally, the identity of a community differs from the identities of the other communities.

China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia as a geo-political as well as a geo-cultural spaces have their own, distinctive identities. Despite the fact that identity, by nature, changes continuously, yet we could hope that on this very moment we could still comprehend the cultural identities of those nations by observing the works and the artists of this fine exhibition.

China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are nations that have a long tradition of preserving and sustaining their ancient cultures. Naturally, the ancient, living cultures have a close relation with the contemporary cultures. To a certain degree, the present cultures are the continuation of the ancient ones. The conservation of the ancient cultural heritages are driven by myth, faith, way of living and philosophy of living. Yet, most importantly, it is driven by an internal urge to become. In this context, each individual has a personal identity that reflects the way the invidual views his or herself as well as the process of constructing the comprehensive narration of self.

A large number of the displayed works are inspired by, infused with, driven by or based on the tradition of decorative visual forms, which have existed in various corners of Asia. To the participating artists, this tradition, which previously had been marginalized by the Westernized world of fine arts, is more than just a language of expression, visual idioms or symbol of and from the past. The tradition of decorative visual forms has became equal with the realization upon the meaning of identity.

We can question a notion presented by Adolf Loos , a pioneer thinker of Western modern architecture, who claimed ornamental forms as an expression of a pleasure-seeking, deviant character. It seems that Loos has failed to comprehend that the decorative visual forms with their elaborate ornamental forms are not a raw statement of certainty, instead they are the outer layers of a series of inner layers comprising subtle signs and symbols. Decorative visual forms, therefore, exist not solely for adorning an empty space or canvas, but, most importantly, for representing something, or many things.

The displayed works here reveal icons, symbols, signs and indexes that represent something. In short, an art work is not an ornament, instead it is a statement.

Several displayed works use icons, which is characterized by the close resemblance between the sign and the thing it represents, to convey the statements. On the other side, we also encounter the existential or phenomenal relations between the sign and the signified. The exhibit features a vast landscape of indexes and symbols.

Once again, the fact that a large number of the displayed works featuring decorative visual forms should not be interpreted as their creators? conscious efforts to merely adorn a space. Decorative visual forms, and everything associated with them, including patterning and ornaments, are the link that connect the practices of fine arts in ancient time with the ones of present time. The participating artists apparently possess that consciousness (of decorative visual forms) as an inseparable part of their cultural identity.

Several displayed works are the results of abstract approaches. The interesting thing about these works is the presence of repeated patterning. The patterning is executed by taking into consideration the basic principles of creating abstract works. Therefore, the creation process of these abstract works are still being based upon the tradition of the decorative visual forms, which is a very Asian tradition.

Amid the rumbling noises of clashing arguments on the interpretation of contemporary fine arts, the participating artists? language of expressions have awaken us to one question; Does contemporary fine arts synonymous with a paradoxical shift from modernism to post-modernism?

Perhaps, the core concepts of the participating artists do not lie on those general boundaries. It would be better if such boundaries are extended and the whole space is re-interpreted as ? present-ness?. Such flexibility will acknowledge the presence and existence of the thin line that connects the past and the present. It is the very thin line that does not feel threatened by the marginalized role imposed upon the decorative visual forms by the philosopy of modernism.

China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia could be interpreted as the borders of cultural identity. Surely, one country?s culture is different from the other ones?. Chinese culture is called exactly that way because it differs from the Malaysian culture, so is the Korean culture and Thailand culture. The most important point is the gist of each culture and the gist is identity. If we believe that national identity is an imaginary and imagined concept expressed through symbols and discourses then let us all call Cina, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia as distinctive cultural communities. By doing so, it will be easier for us to differentiate one cultural identity from the others.

As the characters of identity have always undergone a continuous process of changing and becoming so have the language of expressions selected by the participating artists in this exhibit. Local features and characters, such as distinct patterning, calligraphic expressions and naive narrations, would eventually serve as a warm bridge that connects China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Through this exhibit, we would finally realize that China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia posses a similar repository of knowledge and a parallel esthetic ideology. Both of them would survive the toughest test of time.


Fine art observer, lives in Bali.

Anas Etan
Gift Brought Back From A Trip
acrylic and pencil on canvas
190 x 160 cm
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