To Asia or Not Asia, that is a question…
Centre A, the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is mandated to be a platform for the production, presentation and collection of contemporary Asian art. This seems to necessitate that we think, not only about what contemporary art is, but what contemporary Asian art is.
From an ancient European or Greek perspective Asia is the land of the Hittites, the lands that lie beyond the Bosporus straits. After the travels of Marco Polo Asia, to the Western imagination Asia becomes a far and fantastical land of the distant East. In both cases, a distant imagined other. In the 20th Century in the wake of 19th century Western imperialism in “Asia” Japan appropriates the term both conceptually and spatially claiming “Asia for Asians” (Fukuzawa Yukichi) and that “Asia is One” (Okakura Tenshin).
From the Crusades to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere sites imagined to be Asia are violently interacted with by colonial power in order to conform them to the imagination and interests of imperial power. Those that occupy the sites of “Asia” were, and one could argue continue to be, subjected to physical, psychological and cultural violence, in service of the term.
What happens if we strip the notion of “Asia” from the spaces thereby imagined? Does the violence end or is a useful tool of intercultural solidarity and colonial resistance regrettably diminished? What happens to the confines and contours of this space known as Asia?
When Asia is stripped of its name, what happens to the indigenous peoples of the region and the validation and valuation of their identities, the Ainu or the Baiwan? Do we see a fluid cultural relationships emerge among the peoples of the Pacific from Haida Gwai to Taiwan and across to Aotearoa? What happens to the relations between peoples indigenous and otherwise?
It is questions like these that I have been inspired to explore through my encounters with people throughout Taiwan, not only as we consider the emerging prominence of the practices of indigenous throughout the region, but also as we reflect on recent exhibitions like the recent Japan Foundation funded exhibition SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now.
It is these questions that I will further explore in my upcoming essay. I would also be interested to explore these in exhibition making and artistic exchange contexts as well as the institutional development of Centre A over the short and long term.