Art and social activism collide at the National Gallery’s newest exhibition, Awakenings

Photo: National Gallery Singapore
Photo: National Gallery Singapore

The latest exhibition at National Gallery Singapore looks back to a time when art and social activism collided at a turning point in Asia’s post-war history. With nationalism, modernization, ideological clashes, and democratic campaigns arising across the region, artists delved into the idea of art as a tool to form and uphold identities. The result of all this is explored in Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s, which makes its Southeast Asian debut here, after showings in Japan and Korea.

Displaying 142 works by more than 100 artists from 12 Asian countries, the exhibition looks at how artists challenged conventions and re-evaluated politics, society, economics, and culture. A collaboration between the National Gallery, Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, and the Japan Foundation Asia Center, it’s been four years in the making.

Categorized into three sections — Questioning Structures, Artists and the City, and New Solidarities — the showcase here will focus significantly on works from Southeast Asia, looking at experimental practices in the region, and their social and political contexts.

Even if you’re not an expert on the topic, you’ll find audio guides, brochures, artists talks, curator-led tours, and panel discussions made available at the gallery for you to dive a little deeper into what you’re presented with.

Before you explore, take a look at some of the highlights below.

'Reptiles' by Huang Yong Ping. First showed in Paris in 1989 as part of the show 'Magicians of the World,' this work looks at the cultural connections and conflicts between East and West. Shaped after traditional Chinese tombs, these structures are formed with paper pulp made by running French newspapers through washing machines. Photo: Huang Yong Ping
“Reptiles” by Huang Yong Ping. First showed in Paris in 1989 as part of the show “Magicians of the World,” this work looks at the cultural connections and conflicts between East and West. Shaped after traditional Chinese tombs, these structures are formed with paper pulp made by running French newspapers through washing machines. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
'They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink' by Tang Da Wu. Staged at the National Museum Art Gallery and the Singapore Zoo in 1989, this work combines installation, performance, rituals from traditional Chinese culture, and contemporary social commentary. It refers to the Chinese myth about the rhinoceros horn's medicinal properties and how that resulted in poaching and near-extinction of the species. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
“They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink” by Tang Da Wu. Staged at the National Museum Art Gallery and the Singapore Zoo in 1989, this work combines installation, performance, rituals from traditional Chinese culture, and contemporary social commentary. It refers to the Chinese myth about the rhinoceros horn’s medicinal properties and how that resulted in poaching and near-extinction of the species. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
'Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road' by Lin Yilin. This site-specific performance involved building a wall of concrete blocks and moving from one side of a busy road in central Guangzhou to another. The performance interrupted traffic for 90 minutes, and symbolized the rapid redevelopment of China. Photo: Lin Yilin and Boers-Li Gallery
“Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road” by Lin Yilin. This site-specific performance involved building a wall of concrete blocks and moving from one side of a busy road in central Guangzhou to another in 1995. The performance interrupted traffic for 90 minutes, and was meant to symbolize the rapid redevelopment of China. Photo: Lin Yilin and Boers-Li Gallery
'What Would You Do If These Crackers Were Real Pistols?' by F.X. Harsono. The Indonesian artist invites the viewer to think about the infiltration of violence in daily life with the installation, which is made of pistol-shaped crackers, a desk, and a notebook for audience responses. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
“What Would You Do If These Crackers Were Real Pistols?” by F.X. Harsono. The Indonesian artist invites the viewer to think about the infiltration of violence in daily life with this installation, which is made of pistol-shaped crackers, a desk, and a notebook for audience responses. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
'Relatum' by Lee Ufan. The juxtaposition of hard steel and soft cotton creates the perception of weightless steel, leading visitors to question the dynamic between objects and their surrounding space. Photo: National Gallery Singapore
“Relatum” by Lee Ufan. The juxtaposition of hard steel and soft cotton creates the perception of weightless steel, leading visitors to question the dynamic between objects and their surrounding space. Photo: National Gallery Singapore

 

FIND IT:
Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s is on from now till Sept 15 at City Hall Wing, L3, Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, National Gallery Singapore.
Singaporeans and PRs $10-$15; non-residents $20-$25.
MRT: City Hall


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