Art as a Cultural Movement:

Opening a Window on Southeast Asia
:::

2019 / November

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Williams


To many Taiwanese, Southeast Asia is a faraway land of different languages, cultures and religions. But viewing Taiwan through the lens of contemporary Southeast-Asian art, with its depictions of the cultural body blows inflicted by colonial rule and later transition to more democratic governance, can help us discover that we have more in common with Southeast-­Asian nations than we thought.


This past summer, the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts hosted “Sunshower,” Taiwan’s first large-scale exhibition of contemporary art from Southeast Asia. Originally held in Japan in 2017 at a cost of US$3 million, the exhibition was developed by 14 curators on the basis of a two-year-long survey of Southeast-Asian art. KMFA’s new version of the exhibit featured works by 47 artists selected from the Japanese event, enabling local people to experience this rich banquet of the region’s art for themselves.

A genuine understanding

In Taiwan, people’s impressions of Southeast Asia all too often begin and end with stereotypes of poverty and backwardness. This view ignores the rich artistic and cultural heritage that the region’s long history has gifted it with.

According to the Ministry of Labor, nearly 710,000 Southeast-Asian migrant workers were living and working in Taiwan as of the end of 2018. Our island is also home to many “new immigrants” from the region, and their children. While Southeast Asians now make up a significant portion of the social fabric of Taiwan, little progress has been made in getting to know them, and prejudices persist.

Lee Yulin, director of the KMFA, began seeing breakout Southeast-Asian contemporary art at international venues a number of years ago. Lee, who once studied in New York, believes that the situation of Southeast Asians in Taiwan has created an urgent need for dialogue. She therefore decided to use contemporary art as a means to introduce the public to Southeast Asia. “My goal was to help people truly connect with Southeast Asia, to stop viewing it simply through the lens of the market—whether for labor, spouses, or 600 million consumers—and instead truly forge a good relationship.”

Striking similarities

Although Taiwan and the countries of Southeast Asia differ in their languages, religions, and history, all have experienced colonialism, democratization, and rapid economic growth.

Htein Lin, a Myanma artist incarcerated for seven years for anti-government activities, never let imprison­ment get in the way of his creativity. During his in­carcera­tion, he painted a series of works on canvases made from old prison uniforms, making use of available materials such as toothpaste tubes and broken glass in place of paintbrushes. He called the series “00235” after his inmate number. Exhibited publicly following his release, the paintings document his time in prison while also reveal­ing his pursuit of life and commitment to ideals.

Htein Lin’s work recalls that of the Taiwanese photo­grapher Ouyang Wen, who was imprisoned on Green Island during the White Terror. Ouyang was ordered to take photographs of an inspection visit by Chiang Ching-kuo. Provided with a basic darkroom to develop the photos, he secretly held on to extra film and used it to document local culture and customs, creating a valuable record of life on the island in the 1950s and 60s.

Rich creative fodder

Whereas classical art emphasizes beauty and harmony, contemporary art often aims to make the viewer think. The economies, political systems, and societies of Southeast Asia have seen dramatic changes over the last 40 years. Contemporary art’s embrace of social issues means that it too has experienced explosive development. Artists have processed this simmering cultural fodder into Southeast Asia’s freewheeling contemporary art.

Sunshower (2017), by Thai artist and filmmaker Api­chat­pong Weerasethakul and artist Chai Siris, is a case in point. A four-ton manmade elephant suspended in midair, it is a shocking piece of art. Apichatpong excels at using light, and placed a round light source in front of the elephant to symbolize the moon. A close look at the sculpture reveals details such as the hair and the wrinkles in the skin. As the color of the “moon” changes, so too does the elephant’s expression, its half-closed eyes seeming both asleep and awake and giving it a lifelike appearance.

The piece was exhibited in the section of the show entitled “Between Development and Inheritance.” A sacred symbol in Thailand, the elephant has in modern times been reduced to a mere tool for attracting tourists. The artists seem to be asking viewers: “How should modern humanity coexist with the environment?” Lee says that the struggles birthed by modernity aren’t unique to Southeast Asia, but are faced by all postcolonial nations. The colonizers brought modernity, along with values such as democracy, the rule of law, freedom and convenience, but other things of value were undeniably sacrificed or discarded in the process.

Diverse perspectives

KMFA invited immigrants from several Southeast-­Asian nations to serve as cultural ambassadors for the exhibition. Their perspectives exposed life narratives beyond those of art professionals. Lacking an understanding of Southeast-Asian history, Taiwanese visitors to the show often skimmed over some works, but Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, an immigrant from Vietnam well versed in the region’s history, saw much more in them.

Cambodian artist Lim Sokchanlina’s National Road Number 5 (2015) uses photographs to document the effects of freeway construction on nearby homes. Thanh Ha sees in it not only the struggles and hopes arising out of develop­ment, but also traces of Vietnamese families living in Cambodia. Generally followers of Theravada Buddhism, Cambodians don’t make offerings to their ancestors in their homes. But there are incense burners and three photos of ancestors visible in the piece, as well as Earth God figures on the ground. These are all Vietnamese customs. Thanh Ha explains that Vietnamese place the Earth God on the ground because he has charge of the earth. This ­differs from Taiwan, where it is customary to place him on an altar. Additionally, Vietnamese see the Earth God as also handling matters related to wealth, and picture him looking something like the Happy Buddha, with a big belly and smiling face. In contrast, Taiwanese envision the God of Wealth wearing a government official’s hat and uniform.

Starting a dialogue

Lee says migrant workers are like angels, and she encouraged her colleagues to bring any in their employ to the exhibition. She tells us that on one occasion a volunteer brought her aged mother to the exhibit along with her mother’s caregiver, an Indonesian woman named A-ya. When they came to Toko Keperluan Necessity Shop (2010/2017), a large piece designed by Anggun Priambodo (aka Culap) that incorporates a variety of everyday items from Indonesia and decorative motifs from the South Pacific, the usually shy A-ya began excitedly describing things from her hometown. A-ya’s outburst was a happy surprise to both the volunteer and her mother.

Lee was excited at the prospect of children coming to the museum and being exposed to Southeast-Asian topics. She says that the stereotype of Southeast-Asian immigrant mothers as economically disadvantaged leads to their children not accepting their mothers’ cultures, feeling inferior to their peers, and sometimes being bullied. Support from Rotary International brought hundreds of students from remote areas to the “Sunshower” exhibit, where docents helped create an environment that both made it easier for children of Southeast-Asian mothers to acknowledge their mothers’ cultures, and also encouraged their classmates to ask them questions.

Although the “Sunshower” exhibition concluded on September 1, additional shows introducing other facets of Southeast-Asian art are set to follow, including an exhibition of tattoo art and, next year, one on Austronesian indigen­eity and contemporary art. Lee sees these shows as the start of a movement to make Taiwanese more familiar with Southeast-Asian culture. She hopes that the people who attend them will become like seeds, disseminating greater understanding of Southeast Asia across Taiwan.  

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體

開啟了解東南亞的窗

以藝術為介質的文化運動

文‧陳群芳 圖‧林格立

談起東南亞你會想到什麼?河粉、沙嗲、峇里島、移工、新住民……。東南亞對許多民眾來說,是不同的語言、宗教和文化,也是遙遠的國度;但,若透過東南亞當代藝術作品回望台灣,東南亞諸國在歷經殖民、解殖、民主化等文化衝撞的過程,我們或許會發現,彼此其實如此相似。


今年夏天,高雄市立美術館(以下簡稱高美館)舉辦了台灣首次大規模的東南亞當代藝術展──「太陽雨」。2017年,這個由日本邀集14位策展人、耗資300萬美金,歷時兩年多在東南亞各國普查研究後才誕生的當代藝術展,在日本亮相。2019年,高美館精選日本原展裡的47名藝術家,重新梳理展覽脈絡後,台灣民眾得以參與這場盛大的東南亞藝術饗宴,何其幸運。

真正的理解

每每談到東南亞,腦中總會浮現旅遊、美食,甚或是移民、移工的權利運動,大家對於東南亞國家的想像,始終停留在貧窮、落後的刻板印象裡,而忽略了其悠長的歷史脈絡下所孕育出豐富的藝術文化。

曾在美國紐約深造的高美館館長李玉玲,很早便在諸多國際場合中看到東南亞當代藝術嶄露頭角,也見識其多元文化裡的迷人魅力。據勞動部統計,截至2018年底,台灣已有近71萬來自東南亞國家的移工,若再加上新住民及新二代,數字更是龐大,這些異國面孔早已與台灣密不可分。即便如此,台灣民眾對東南亞的認識卻沒有顯著進步,偏見依舊存在,開啟更多對話的機會顯得迫切而重要。於是李玉玲以當代藝術為視角,作為民眾認識東南亞的另一種途徑,「希望真正接納東南亞,不再只是市場性的想像;不論是勞力市場、婚姻市場,或是六億人口所帶來的商機市場,而是他們真的能與我們共好的關係。」李玉玲表示。

相似的彼此

台灣與東南亞諸國雖有著不同的語言、宗教及歷史脈絡,但同樣經歷殖民、解殖、民主化與經濟起飛的過程,讓彼此有著相似的共通經驗。例如新加坡藝術家何子彥的作品〈兩隻或三隻老虎〉,便是以馬來虎的傳說來探討自然與文明間的衝突。馬來半島上曾經充滿馬來虎,對當地而言,老虎是祖先和神的象徵,卻在19世紀英國殖民時期遭到大量捕殺。這與台灣曾經遍布特有種「台灣梅花鹿」蹤跡,卻在荷蘭殖民後,因為毛皮需求而遭到大量獵捕的處境有著幾分相似。

曾因涉嫌反政府活動而入獄七年的緬甸藝術家登林,外在的囚禁並不能阻止他創作的心。他將節省下來的肥皂,雕刻成框架中蜷曲的人形,像是為自己與其他因政治迫害而犧牲青春的犯人,表達被壓迫的痛苦。坐牢期間登林以舊監獄制服為畫布,利用手邊有限的素材,如牙膏管、碎玻璃、剃刀片等,創作出以他的囚犯號碼〈00235〉為名的系列作品;在他獲釋後,這些作品終於有機會被世人看見,為這段監禁的歷史留下紀錄,也展現了藝術家對生命及理想的追求與堅持。

李玉玲表示,登林的境遇,讓她聯想起在白色恐怖時期被關進綠島十多年的攝影師歐陽文。坐牢期間,在一次蔣經國視察綠島時,歐陽文被指派擔任攝影師,因而有了沖洗底片的簡易暗房。他偷偷留下拍照剩餘的底片,拍攝島上的人文風土,為1950及60年代的綠島留下珍貴的紀錄。1987年台灣解嚴後,歐陽文終於有機會重拾畫筆,以二二八事件及他在綠島的歲月為靈感,創作一幅幅充滿生命張力的繪畫。歐陽文曾說:「我必須以我的畫筆,記錄下我們那一代台灣人的悲哀與抵抗。」

東南亞的創作養分

不同於古典藝術強調和諧與美感,當代藝術很多時候是為了刺激觀者思考。近40年來,東南亞各國在經濟、政治及社會等各面向的變動都十分劇烈,包裹著社會議題的當代藝術,也隨之蓬勃發展。正是這些政治的動盪、追求經濟發展的腳步等,讓生活在其中的藝術家們,吸納了養分,創造出形式不拘、題材多元的東南亞當代藝術。

像是泰國藝術家暨電影導演阿比查邦.韋拉斯塔古與藝術家賽勒斯合作的作品〈太陽雨〉,將一隻四噸重的人造大象,橫放並懸吊在半空中,視覺上十分震撼。擅長光影表現的阿比查邦,在大象的前方裝置了一個象徵月亮的圓型發光體,近看大象的皮膚紋路、毛髮都清晰可見,隨著前方月亮的顏色變化,大象的表情也跟著改變,半闔半開的眼睛似睡似醒,讓大象彷彿有了生命。

這個作品擺放在「現代發展及歷史傳承之間」的展區,在泰國有神聖象徵的大象,如今卻成為觀光、招攬遊客的生財工具。藝術家試圖透過作品敘述在現代化之前人與自然的關係,也像是在對觀者提問:「當今人類該如何與環境共處?」李玉玲進一步指出,現代化所帶來的掙扎,不僅是東南亞國家的課題,而是每個被殖民的國家所面對的問題。殖民國引進現代化,帶來民主、法治、自由、便利等價值,但不可否認的是,有些東西也在過程中被犧牲或捨棄,例如環境。

多元觀看視角

為了促進民眾對東南亞國家有更多的了解與好奇,高美館邀請在台生活的各國新住民擔任文化大使,透過他們的視角,挖掘在藝術專業之外的生命故事。因為缺乏對東南亞歷史的了解,有些展品我們只能匆匆一瞥,走馬看花。但在來自越南、深諳東南亞歷史的新住民阮青河眼中,對那些作品有更多的解讀。

像是柬埔寨藝術家李.達拉烏的作品〈信使〉,展示了紅色高棉時期兒童的照片與相關文件。對兒童在紅色高棉統治下被屠殺而感到心痛,是多數人在看到作品時的心情。除此之外,阮青河也聯想起越南與柬埔寨的邊界戰爭,紅色高棉時期,越南為保護領土,也為解放柬埔寨人民而駐軍柬埔寨。阮青河表示,講歷史有時候沒辦法客觀,同樣的事件,站在不同立場就有不同看法。這段歷史對紅色高棉來說,越南是侵略者,對於被救的柬埔寨人民而言,越南是救世者。越南駐軍柬埔寨的舉動也遭到其他國家的反對聲浪,「直到國際法庭宣布紅色高棉的領袖是滅族的罪人,越南才洗清了冤枉。」阮青河說。

〈國道五號〉是柬埔寨藝術家林.索科謙李納以照片記錄高速公路擴建對周邊住宅造成的影響,除了感受藝術家傳達發展所帶來的痛苦與希望,阮青河則從照片中的線索,找到可能是越南家庭在柬埔寨生活的端倪。普遍信奉南傳佛教的柬埔寨人,不會在家中祭拜祖先,但作品裡卻安放了三張祖先的照片與香爐,這跟越南習俗相同;且屋主將土地公放在地上祭拜的行為也跟越南一樣。阮青河指出,在越南,土地公掌管土地,所以安在地上,與台灣土地公安在供桌上很不一樣;而且越南的土地公是結合財神爺的神祇,外型像是彌勒佛,肚子大大、笑咪咪的模樣,與台灣的財神爺帶著烏紗帽、穿著官服的外型大不相同。

文化運動開啟對話

李玉玲形容移工就像是天使,分攤了照顧年邁父母或生病家人的重擔,讓台灣人得以繼續打拚事業、追求理想。她鼓勵同仁帶家裡的移工前來,有次李玉玲在館內遇到導覽志工帶著年邁的母親與看護阿雅來參觀,來自印尼的阿雅,看到安谷.普萊米亞布都所設計的大型裝置作品〈印尼雜貨店〉,擺放各式印尼的生活用品與充滿南洋風情的裝飾。一向害羞的阿雅,竟打開話匣子,興奮地訴說關於自己家鄉的事物,讓志工與母親既驚訝又開心。

不只希望成人來看展,李玉玲更期盼孩童能走進高美館接觸東南亞議題。李玉玲表示,新住民等同於經濟弱勢的刻板印象,使得新二代缺乏對母體文化的認同,與同儕相處時容易有自卑感,甚至被霸凌。在國際扶輪社的支持下數百位偏遠地區的學童前來參觀「太陽雨」,導覽員營造情境,讓習慣隱藏身分的孩子大方承認自己母親的文化,並鼓勵其他孩子向新二代的同學提問。兒童看懂或不懂沒關係,「來看一些日常看不到的,去思考為什麼,就算只認識一個故事也就足夠。」李玉玲說。

雖然太陽雨展覽已在今年九月圓滿結束,但緊接在後的「TATTOO 刺青──身之印」以及明年登場的「泛‧南‧島」等展覽,都將會呈現不同面向的東南亞藝術作品。李玉玲說,這是啟動認識東南亞的文化運動,希望看展的人都能成為種子,為他人開啟理解東南亞的一扇窗。         

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!