Ten Works From South and Southeast Asia in the M+ Collection
Did you know that M+ has a large, and constantly growing, collection of artists, architects, and designers from South and Southeast Asia? Chances are, you didn’t—but you’re about to.
From the beginning, the M+ Collection has always included works from South and Southeast Asia, but so far, the regions haven’t featured prominently as part of the museum’s public programme. That’s all about to change with the upcoming REORIENT: Conversations on South and Southeast Asia.
With REORIENT, M+ will ‘reorient’ attention southward with a series of one-on-one conversations, short presentations, and panel discussions during a three-day event. Designed to inform Hong Kong audiences about the important work being done by individuals and institutions in the region, REORIENT will also examine similarities and intersections between cultural practices in Hong Kong and the global south.
To give you an idea of what kind of works from South and Southeast Asia exist in the M+ Collection, we’ve put together a short list showcasing ten examples below. Read on to learn more about why these pieces are such important examples of contemporary visual culture.
Rasheed Araeen (British, born Pakistan), Boats: Towards Abstraction
Rasheed Araeen is widely credited with being one of the founding voices of Minimalism in Britain. The Boats: Towards Abstraction series in the M+ Collection, an example of which is seen above, shows Araeen’s progression towards abstract representation in the 1960s. His body of work consists of semi-abstract paintings, drawings, geometrical sculptures, and occasional performative actions. The drawing series will be included in the artist’s upcoming retrospective at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Araeen has often taken on an activist role through his writing and curating, championing the work of non-western artists residing in Britain. He is the founding editor of the influential journal Third Text, which has become a seminal outlet for writings on post-colonialism and artistic identity in the cultural sphere.
Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thai, born Argentina), Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western)
Rirkrit Tiravanija is most famous for his role in ‘relational aesthetics’, the tendency of participatory artmaking, in which artists act as catalysts for social interaction. His artworks are often presented as rooms or spaces for socialising, such as sharing meals, cooking, reading, or playing music. The act of feeding and eating in particular, as a form of social art, has become his trademark.
Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western) (2001) in the M+ Collection is an example of this type of works. It consists of propane cookers, steel pots, plates, forks, trays, cutting boards, and a Thai soup recipe; an entire kitchen assortment enough to prepare food for 800 people!
Shilpa Gupta (India), Speaking Wall
Shilpa Gupta makes deeply poetic, political installations and sculptures. Her works use technological media to comment on globalisation, religion, gender politics, environmental issues, identity, and political injustice.
In Speaking Wall (2009–2010) from the M+ Collection, the viewer, wearing headphones, listens to a voice directing them to move along a row of bricks. A motion sensor recognises where the viewer is standing, inviting them to move closer. The viewer is told a story through a tiny LCD screen on the wall, revolving around a border drawn in the dirt that was exposed to the wind and rain, shifting a few centimeters. The viewer’s body becomes directly involved in a conversation about the arbitrariness of borders and identity.
Sopheap Pich (Cambodia), Compound
Sopheap Pich has a recognisable signature style: working with thin strips of rattan and bamboo to create sculptural forms. He also uses other locally sourced materials, such as burlap from rice bags, beeswax, and earth pigments.
Pich’s work engages with the recent traumatic history as well as enduring culture of Cambodia, despite the almost complete destruction by the Khmer Rouge. He does this by using traditional materials and forms, having stated, ‘Everything is expressed in the lines. … Work leads to acceptance. Work leads to resistance.’
Heman Chong (Singaporean, born Malaysia), Calendars 2020–2096
Heman Chong has a varied artistic practice—of objects, images, installations, situations, and texts—and his works in the M+ Collection are striking and epic in scope. He is known for his conceptually charged investigations into how individuals and communities imagine the future.
Calendars 2020-2096, for example, encompasses 1,001 photos collected from 2004 to 2010, hung in a grid-like arrangement along the gallery walls. The photos, all taken in Singapore, show accessible public spaces, but only while they are empty and devoid of human presence. It took him seven years of wandering in his home city to capture these spaces while empty. Given the rapid pace of urban renewal, Calendars 2020-2096 offers a constant reminder that your surroundings do not stay constant for very long.
Design and Architecture
Satyendra Pakhalé (India), RCCC/Roll Carbon Ceramic Chair
Satyendra Pakhalé is an industrial designer and architect. He’s known for his versatile work driven by social, cultural and technological research across furniture, industrial, transportation, architecture, and interior design.
RCCC/Roll Carbon Ceramic Chair in the M+ Collection is an unexpected combination of ‘high tech’ (carbon fibre) and ‘low tech’ (ceramic) materials. The chair was made using ceramic and then covered in blue carbon fibre. It was intended to challenge preconceived notions of materials—in the artist’s words, ‘the intent [...] was pure provocation’.
Hans Tan (Singapore), Spotted Nyonya series
Hans Tan is an emerging Singaporean designer whose work focuses on design as a way to explore values, rituals, and materiality. His Spotted Nyonya series in the M+ Collection is a reinterpretation of Nyonya porcelain vessels. These are traditional domestic wares native to Peranakan Chinese (descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries) in Southeast Asia.
His contemporary, industrial take on the traditional objects transforms the original multicoloured surface into a graphic pattern. The porcelain surfaces were masked with dots, then sandblasted, preserving the protected areas while erasing the original glaze sections from exposed areas, revealing the white porcelain that lies beneath.
Malayan Architects Co-partnership/Architects Team 3 (Singapore/Malaysia), Singapore Conference Hall
Architects Team 3 (AT3) was an architectural firm founded in Singapore in 1967, in succession to Malayan Architects Co-partnership (MAC), a firm with the same co-founder, Mr. Lim Chong Keat, which was actively building some of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s most significant civic and institutional buildings, representing what historians have dubbed the ‘heroic age’ of architecture in post-colonial British Malaya.
Buildings by MAC/AT3 were inventively designed in response to the region’s socio-political and climatic conditions. Their design of Singapore Conference Hall, visible in the above photo (right beside the building on the bottom left), represents the government’s bid for modernity and socialism, as seen in its rhetoric of openness and public accessibility, but it is also a contextually-specific building with its climate-responsive sun shading and lofty spaces for ventilation.
The M+ collection has a large amount of varied materials from AT3 in the collection, including over 100 photographs, drawings, floor plans, booklets, and slides.
Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (India), Cabinet from Mill Owners' Association Building
Balkrishna Vithaldas (B. V.) Doshi is one of India's most influential architects, and founder of the country's first progressive architecture school, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology. He is closely associated with Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Between 1951–1954, he worked with Le Corbusier in Paris, and later returned to Ahmedabad, India, to supervise Le Corbusier’s projects.
The cabinet by Doshi in the M+ collection was built for the Mill Owners’ Association Building in Ahmedabad. This building was one of Le Corbusier’s four built projects in the city. The design of the cabinet reflects the building facade's rectilinear grid, in contrast to the more curvilinear interior.
Raj Rewal (India), New Delhi Parliament Library
Raj Rewal is a leading architect whose work has included many of the most significant projects of post-independence India. His designs draw on both international modernism, and traditional Indian—especially Mughal—architecture.
Like both MAC/AT3 and B. V. Doshi, Rewal has consistently sought to merge innovative ideas and building technologies with the realities of the local climate and social conditions. His model for the New Delhi Parliament Library, for example, has a roof garden that provides a gathering space in the winter, and a thermal barrier in the summer. It also draws on and reinvents previous Indian architecture to embody a message of cultural identity and vigour.
REORIENT: Conversations on South and Southeast Asia takes place on 30 November—2 December 2017 at the Asia Society Hong Kong. The three days will include one-on-one conversations, short presentations, and panel discussions. Keep an eye out for Rirkrit Tiravanija, one of the above ten artists, on December 1.
Image at top of post: Hans Tan (Singaporean, born 1980), Spotted Nyonya—Kamcheng, 2011, sandblasted porcelain. M+, Hong Kong. © Hans Tan