Essay about Asian Tradition

Essay about Asian Tradition

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It is true to say that tradition is an important aspect of Asian art. Yet with Asian art we are always struck by the question of which tradition? Much more scholarship is being produced today on the syncretic nature of Asia, that is, how traditions in different Asian states share cultural heritage and are inherently interconnected. While this is certainly the case with the shared cultures of South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia perhaps a larger question looms as to how tradition impacts upon art today. One of the most important developments has been the emergence of parallel art worlds, with artists divided between those who continue artistic traditions (such as ink painting and lacquer, as well as uphold styles valorized by the state such as oil painting) and those artists who participate in the experimental art world (working in the medium of installation, video art and photography) traveling the world for events much like this one, the Gwangju Biennale. It is often the former art world that is rarely spoken of outside Asia although in many cases within their respective countries these artists hold much of the power over art academies, artist associations and national galleries. I wanted to begin my talk today with this explanation of parallel art worlds because when we speak about tradition in relation to Asian contemporary art, we must be mindful that a larger group of artists are engaged in practices that do not fit neatly into our own ideas of what contemporary art is.

Perhaps surprisingly, experimental artists are also cast in terms of tradition in curated exhibitions. When we look at the way that the work of Asian artists has been framed it is most often as a break with tradition, which is in keeping with the not...


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... period (1185-1333), early 14th century, which illustrates at once the similarities and differences between the works. The artist has here replaced the sword with a rifle and a Japanese flag in a somewhat ambiguous statement of nationalism. Whatever his intention here we see his desire to locate this wrathful deity in today’s world of military aggression. Other works by this artist might also show clearer links to a graffiti and street culture aesthetic although I have chosen images that best relate to traditional antecedents.

There are of course many other artists who employ ideas of tradition in their works while an equal number choose not to work within obvious references to tradition, but it is my hope that by looking at these artists today we have gained some insight into some of the divergent ways that artists approach tradition in their work.





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