Contemporary Asian Art and its Historical Roots

Assistant professor of art history Natalie Phillips joined the Alliance for a luncheon on February 11, 2015 to speak about Contemporary Asian Art and its historical roots. Dr. Phillips has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and Religious Studies and a PhD in Visual Studies, and has been a professor at Ball State since 2009. She became interested in Contemporary Asian Art while she served as a teacher’s assistant for a yearlong survey of Asian Art in graduate school.

Dr. Phillips spoke of artists from three different areas of Contemporary Asian Art: India, China, and Japan. The artists from each of these nations touch on topics such as westernization, identity, history, and transnationalism.

Jamini Roy, Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, 1945
Jamini Roy,
Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, 1945

Indian contemporary art brings forth the very cartoonish and abstract characteristics of traditional Indian folk art. Contemporary Indian Artist Jamini Roy adopted the techniques seen in Indian folk art as well as the flat, un-modulated features of the 19th century Jaipur School.

Jaipur School Ten Incarnations of Vishnu, 1825-75 From the DOMA collection
Jaipur School
Ten Incarnations of Vishnu, 1825-75
From the DOMA collection

 

 

When you compare his work Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana with the Ten Incarnations of Vishnu created by the Jaipur School, you begin to see the inspiration Roy has from Indian native traditions.

The bright and vivid color you see in Indian art is present in many aspects of Indian culture, including the street markets where artist Anish Kapoor drew inspiration for his work.

Anish Kapoor, As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain, 1981
Anish Kapoor,
As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain, 1981

As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain shows Kapoor’s interpretation of the pyramids of color pigment sold in the Indian street markets. These colored pigments are also used in the Holi Festival, which is held every year to celebrate spring, love, and color. Learn more about the Holi Festival here.

Contemporary Chinese art touches on the subjects of transnationalism and the negotiation of identity. Art students in China are typically forced to choose between studying traditional Chinese painting (Guohua) and western style of painting (Xihua), which can cause artists to struggle with their identity.

Wilson Shieh, Ceramics Series, 2002
Wilson Shieh,
Ceramics Series, 2002
Bowl with Children, 16th century, from the DOMA collection
Bowl with Children, 16th century, from the DOMA collection

Wilson Shieh’s Ceramics Series speaks to the struggle contemporary Chinese artists may face with the concept of identity. This series shows figures attempting to connect to the past through the use of traditional Chinese objects, but are failing to identify with their historical background. For example, the figure to the left is using a traditional Chinese porcelain bowl as an umbrella.

 

Ai Weiwei, Painted Vessels, 2006-2012
Ai Weiwei, Painted Vessels, 2006-2012

The art of contemporary China also speaks to politics and the battle artists face with the censorship of their government. The Chinese government has been known to kill, jail, and excommunicate artists that criticize the actions of dictator Mao Zedong.

Chinese Ritual Wine Vessel with Lid,  206 BCE - 200 CE From the DOMA collection
Chinese Ritual Wine Vessel with Lid,
206 BCE – 200 CE
From the DOMA collection

Ai Weiwei, for example, was beaten and had his passport taken away by the government for his controversial work as an artist. Painted Vases is one example of how Ai Weiwei has rebelled against his government. Dr. Phillips explains that, “He painted over these ancient Chinese vessels, essentially ruining important pieces of history, but he also created a new life for these old objects.”

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. cute
Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. cute

 

 

 

 

 

In contemporary Japanese art, we see something called “the cute phenomenon” also known as Kawaii culture. This movement was a response to the bombings of WWII, and Dr. Phillips explained that, “Japan was so traumatized by the bombings, they retreated into childlike nostalgia.” These cute images also have a scary side, a trait that you can see in Takashi Murakami’s Mr. D.O.B.

Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. scary
Takashi Murakami, Mr. D.O.B. scary
Chiho Aoshima, Apricot
Chiho Aoshima, Apricot

Murakami is also known for coining the term “superflat,” which refers to the very flat and cartoonish characteristics of digital Japanese art, Anime  is an example of this “superflat” type of art. Chiho Aoshima’s Apricot is an example of contemporary Anime that draws inspiration from traditional Japanese paintings.

When asked about the struggle some have with appreciating contemporary art like anime and other digital forms of art, Dr. Phillips said, “…it is epic and beautiful and has all the elements of the fine arts. Art is changing so much and I think it’s important to be open to new media, new ideas, and new ways for artists to express themselves.”

I hope this post has helped you better understand Contemporary Asian art and it’s historical roots. Visit this, this, and this website for more information on the topic. If you have an interest in contemporary art, be sure to stop by and see our current exhibition Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engageon view through May 3, 2015.

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