This exhibition examines the nomadism of contemporary migrant artists who deliberately resist location and de-territorialize the origins of their work. It consists of a selection of some of today’s most successful artists based in or originating from various regions in Asia, including the Middle East. These artists are engaged in the acts of moving, living, and working on multiple continents or are addressing such phenomena in their practices consciously, or in some cases unconsciously. They investigate, challenge, and/ or renew traditional nomadic ideals in view of contemporary lifestyles relative to ideas about space, place, people, movement, and nature. Through their nomadism, these artists elude the fixed identity categories often imposed on them by their country or countries of adoption.
The word “nomad” comes from the Greek and is defined as “the one who wanders for pasture.” Since the dawn of the modern era, however, or perhaps even since the birth of cities, the term has been used to mean one who moves for various reasons. The paradoxes of a life on the move are playfully highlighted in the exhibition’s double-edged title—to both acknowledge the real challenges of such a lifestyle and also to examine the often fantastic, uncanny images conjured by the term nomad. Namely, one who engages in wild, uninhibited meanderings in unregulated territories at the mercy of highly unexpected and dangerous conditions and circumstances.
From the 1960s onward, significant numbers of artists from all regions of the world—Asia, Africa, South America, and elsewhere—travelled to Europe and North America, and vice-versa. Whether they immigrated for a short period or indefinitely, their art not only contributed to the dynamics of their newly adopted art scenes but transformed art-making processes, theory, and criticism, and ultimately art history altogether. Art historians are therefore now beginning to recognize the starting point of contemporary art by delineating artists and movements from 1970 forward as “an art that is of the world for the world.”
This exhibition was inspired by the curators’ acknowledgment of this shift as directly connected to the phenomena of artists increasingly moving from place to place and living and working in countries and regions other than their own, especially over the past three decades. Furthermore, the practice of the few brave artists who ventured to isolated places in the world on their own has now become completely institutionalized. Residency programs have sprouted up in museums, universities, and arts organizations in cities, towns, and even villages, large and small, cosmopolitan or remote. A generation of thirty- and forty-something successful artists today will list at least a dozen local and international residencies in their resumes.
No-Mad-Ness in No Man’s Land is the fruit of four years of collaborative research and conversations between curators Leeza Ahmady and Ombretta Agró Andruff, which led to the selection of the ten artists currently in the exhibition. Some of the artists are culturally and historically connected to the notion of nomadism because of their geographical affiliations (Said Atabekov, Yelena Vorobyeva, and Viktor Vorobyev); others because they make the concept of nomadism, displacement, and migration one of the central subjects of their art practice (Mariam Ghani, Sharif Waked, Jeanno Gaussi, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, and to some extent Reena Kallat and Jagannath Panda); and than there are those who may have touched upon this subject more peripherally but with works that make a strong statement in this specific context (Lara Baladi and Khadim Ali).
While the list of artists initially under consideration included individuals and collectives from Italy, Germany, Denmark, Poland, and Mexico, among other countries, the final selection for this specific iteration of the project focused on participants from Asia and the Middle East, including India, Kazakhstan, Egypt, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Palestine.
The media employed by the artists reflect the wide variety of their practices: from the videos of Mariam Ghani and Sharif Waked to the photography-based works of Said Atabekov, Yelena and Viktor Vorobyev, and Lara Baladi ; the sculptural works and installations by Jagannath Panda, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Reena Kallat, and the Vorobyevs; and the paintings and works on paper by Jeanno Gaussi, Reena Kallat, Jagannath Panda and Khadim Ali.
No-Mad-Ness in No Man's Land is an open-ended and ongoing project, which the curators envision gaining a nomadic existence in its own right, traveling through different venues in different countries with the possibility of changing the participating artists as it moves from place to place in order to broaden the dialogue concerning various forms of contemporary nomadism. The first manifestation of this project will take place at ESLITE GALLERY, from November 9th – December 22nd.
Alfredo Juan Aquilizan was born in Ballesteros, Cagayan, Philippines, in 1962, and Isabel Aquilizan y Gaudinez was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1965. They both are currently based in Brisbane, Australia.
The artists’ collaborative works have developed within the spheres of family and community, involving their personal relationships as well as those they share with other artists. For years, they have been exploring the meaning of home and a sense of belonging while travelling extensively for their work. Finding and defining the notion of identity, dealing with the hardships of journey and displacement, sensing presence in absence, and accumulating memory – these are all questions at the core of their artistic practice. They continue to develop these issues through materials and objects both abstract and referential that serve as metaphors for everyday human life. For ten years they collected fragments for an artistic collaboration entitled “Project Be-longing” (1997-2007). They are currently working on a new project, “Another Country,” which deals with migration, dislocation, diaspora, adopting/adapting, settlement/resettlement, and identity.
The artists have participated in a number of international biennales and exhibitions, including the Sharjah Biennial, UAE (2013); Asia Pacific Triennale, Brisbane, Australia (2009); Singapore Biennale, Singapore (2008); Adelaide Biennale, Australia (2008); Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2006); the Third Echigo-Tsumari Triennale, Japan (2006); Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2004); Venice Biennale, Italy (2003); and many others. Their projects in 2013 include: Yes Naturally, The GEM / Photo Museum / Gemeentemuseum, the Hague, Netherlands; FRAGMENTS: A Survey, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; New Work/Old Work, Queensland University of Technology Museum, Brisbane, Australia; In-Flight III, National Heritage Board, Singapore; Moscow Biennale, Russia; and Passing Through: Project Another Country, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.
Reena Saini Kallat (b. 1973, Delhi, India) lives and works in Mumbai. She graduated from Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, in 1996, with a BFA in Painting. Her practice spans painting, photography, sculpture, video, and installation, often incorporating multiple mediums into a single work. Over the years she has developed several workshop projects for children, which she was invited to speak about at the World Economic Forum (2012).
She frequently works with officially recorded or registered names of people, objects, and monuments that are lost or have disappeared without a trace, only to be reported as anonymous and forgotten statistics. One of the recurrent motifs in her work is the rubber stamp, used as both an object and an imprint, signifying the apparatus of bureaucracy, which both confirms and obscures identity.
Her work has been widely exhibited across the world in venues such as Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Kennedy Center, Washington D.C.; Saatchi Gallery, London, UK; SESC Pompeia and SESC Belenzino in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea; Arken Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark; ZKM Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia; Hangar Bicocca, Milan, Italy; Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China; Busan Museum of Modern Art, Busan, Korea; and Chicago Cultural Centre, Illinois, amongst many others. She was recently the recipient of the ZegnArt Public Award, Milan, Italy (2012) for which she was commissioned to realize a large sculptural installation for the facade of the Dr. Bhaudaji Lad Museum, Mumbai, India.