Traditional art forms strike back in the Asia-Pacific region

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Artists keen to revive ancient tribal art forms in the face of an increasingly cybernetic society will be a special feature of the 10th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) in Brisbane. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) will donate its two riverside buildings to the free event, which has attracted 3.7 million visitors since its launch in 1993.

APT10 curator Tarun Nagesh says the exhibit will feature a wealth of materials and large structures, including a Tongan ‘fale’, the Tongan word for house, made from local materials. “There are many weavings, ceramics, lacquers, multimedia installations and traditions of performance and mask making – many artists are transforming old techniques for new generations.”

Among the 150 artists and collectives participating in APT10 are brothers Mayur and Tushar Vayeda, who were born and still live in the village of Ganjad, 80 miles from Mumbai in India. They make art in the style of their Warli tribe – a kind of pictorial language featuring geometric human figures against a backdrop of lush, stylized vegetation and natural formations.

The brothers paint traditional fables, as well as stories they have collected by recording local oral histories, using water-based paints on a background made from the dung of their own cattle. One of their works Dhartari: The Creation of the World 2021was acquired by QAGOMA.

Indigenous crafts

Other APT10 artists working with traditional materials and techniques include Maryam Ayeen and Abbas Shahsavar, whose contemporary works are rooted in the Iranian tradition of miniature painting, and Fijian master potter Veniana Maraia Paulini and her family , who are among the last active potters in the village. by Nasilai. Fijian pottery traditions date back over 3,000 years.

APT10 will also feature tepo – hand-woven mats made from dried pandanus leaves, made by the Sama Dilaut people, who lead a nomadic, seafaring life in the Indo-Malaysian and Philippine archipelagos. The geometric designs of the dyed leaf mats represent sea life and everyday objects such as the ladders used by people to climb onto their houseboats. There have been recent initiatives to introduce tepo to regional museums and collectors.

Dopamine drop (detail), 2020-21, by Iranian artist duo and married couple Maryam Ayeen and Abbas Shahsavar © Maryam Ayeen and Abbas Shahsavar

Many APT10 artworks reference the dangers of rising sea levels, including a film and photographic work by Indonesian artists Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett on the coastline of Jakarta Bay, where the water has engulfed and submerged a mosque.

Water as a precarious resource is the issue behind an installation by Honolulu-based Kaili Chun, which collected small water capsules from Indigenous groups across Australia and invited people to tell stories about their relationship with water. “In the Asia-Pacific region you have some of the front lines of climate change, so naturally that comes across in the show,” says Nagesh. In some parts of the region, sea level rise is “part of everyday life”.

APT10, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 4 December-25 April 2022

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