In recent years, contemporary Asian artists are finding greater recognition in the eyes of the Western art market. Asian artists such as Yayoi Kusama have long been seen as “brands” of the Asian art scene, but slowly the perspective on Asian art has shifted to one that is a true component to the global art community. “Asian art” is a broad and general title: it can include artists from countries and cultures from India to Japan. Here, we’ll take a look at rising Asian artists to watch, from Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and Japan. These five Asian artists all share the love and passion for their practices as they have begun to make names for themselves not only in the Asian market but across the world.
Phi Phi Oanh
Born in Houston in 1979, American/Vietnamese Phi Phi Oanh found her passion in lacquer painting after earning her BFA at Parsons School of Design in 2002, and a Masters in Art and Investigation at the University of Madrid Complutense in 2012. Since receiving a Fulbright Grant to study lacquer in Hanoi, Vietnamese lacquer has become a focus in Oanh’s practice. But Oanh’s work has adapted from the cultural and traditional norms of Vietnamese lacquered objects to a kaleidoscopic environment of lacquer. Her goal is to focus on lacquer’s potential as a painting medium to convey memories or reflection, utilizing the dream-like medium of lacquer together with the mirrors she paints on.
At the 2013 Singapore Biennale, Oanh presented her massive piece Specula, a large arched hallway of luminous, lacquered panels. Stepping inside, the chamber-like structure provided a cosmos of lacquered designs that reflected the aesthetic of Renaissance art. Through her use of lacquer, Oanh creates art that is both ancient and new, while utilizing the traditional techniques of Vietnamese lacquer art with a twist of modern perspective. Coming up with a new language for Vietnamese lacquer art has been Oanh’s contemporary approach, one worth noting and appreciating.
A small city-state in the hub of Asia, Singapore is becoming a hotspot for upcoming contemporary artists. One of these artists is Donna Ong, who was born in 1978. She graduated from architecture school in London and Goldsmith’s College London, where she studied fine art. Ong does not work with any one specific technique; rather, if one compares her paintings and her dioramas, they might have been produced by completely different artists. The similarity they share rests in Ong’s dream-like visuals.
Her first major exhibit in Singapore in 2004 was titled “Palace of Dreams” at the Arts House at the Old Parliament; a fitting name for her structure and sculpture. Around the room sat bubbling, glowing jars with plastic dolls floating inside of them, and at the center of the room was a desk with a drawing board. From a distance, the effect of the lights and the dimly lit room made the dolls appear to be more organic as if they were a specimen under preservation. By connecting the context of the luminous jars with the desk, a scenario began to unfold. The room became a Victorian-style laboratory, one that was a mix of science and dreams that create a dark fairy tale. Ong continues to meld material objects with the fantastical in her installations and sculptural hybrids.
Patricia Perez Eustaquio
The Filipino painter and sculptor Patricia Perez Eustaquio has made a name for herself not only in her home country, but in Asia and Europe. Eustaquio works with shadows, fragments, discards, and detritus; she uses a variety of mediums to explore these concepts through painting, drawing and installations. Eustaquio recounts the physical and psychic lives of objects by repeating style and color in many of her pieces, creating a new and different material of art. For example, her drawings in the series, “Figure Babel,” all feature a melding of organic objects and geometrical shapes. The works, done in graphite on paper, reveal the patterned detail of animal carcasses and flowers but are boxed within perfectly linear and precise circles and triangles. The result is a haunting imagery through wilted blooms and detritus, seemingly bursting from their confining frames. With her unique and beautiful approach, Eustaquio has been the recipient of awards for emerging artists, and of residency grants such as Art Omi in New York. Eustaquio is steadily becoming a name to look out for in contemporary art: she has had solo shows in Manila, Singapore, Taiwan and New York, and has participated in group exhibitions at Hong Kong Art Centre and the Singapore Art Museum. Eustaquio will likely continue to gain recognition in the art scene for her ornate, neo-abstract works.
Robert Zhao Renhui
Robert Zhao Renhui is one of the biggest names in photography and conceptual art in the Singapore art scene. He toys with the weakness and morbidity of nature under human influence, and with this theme, has exhibited numerous shows that incorporate a dark zoological irony. Since 2008, Zhao has created and accumulated a collection of curiosities under what he calls his Institute of Critical Zoologists. The Institute is completely imaginary, but Zhao has built its concept to explore the ethical issues encompassing the natural world.
Within this alternative reality, Zhao has created several series of convincingly real pseudo-documentarian photos and installations. For example, his 2014 series, “A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World” “documents” 55 different animals and plants that have been subtly manipulated by human influence. These include creatures who have been mutated to serve different purposes, from scientific research to the desire for visual aesthetic, such as man-made gelatin grapes and genetically modified tomatoes. This eerily sci-fi, yet chillingly realistic take on the man/environment relationship has been made by Zhao as a reminder of our future, as well as our present condition. Through his satiric imagery, Renhui predicts an uneasy reality that cannot be ignored.
Working in sound is an alternative and rather obscure form of contemporary art that is not often encountered, and there are few Asian artists who are involved in creating soundscapes or sonic sculpture. Yet Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Hisakado has adopted these aural aspects of sensation into his sculptural practice.
Born in 1981 in Kyoto, Hisakado received his MFA at the department of sculpture at Kyoto University of Arts in 2007. He focuses on what can be seen as mundane aspects of life and collects parts of the history unique to specific places to create installations that combine sound, light, and sculpture. While most of his works have been shown only in Tokyo, this mesh of sensation was experienced in Hisakado’s 2015 exhibit titled “Quantize”, his first solo exhibition in Singapore at the Gillman Barracks. In one of the installations in the exhibit, After That #2, Hisakado plays with visual diversion to distract from the sound being emitted. He collaged hundreds of different sized circular mirrors and mounted them on a wall in the gallery, creating an altered, broken effect within their reflections. Each mirror had a delicate hand, like a clock, all moving at different rhythms and speeds to create a gentle chorus of ticking. This results in a grapple for attention between the visual and auditory elements of the installation and is the quantification of the viewer’s perception. This interaction between sculpture and auditory elements is an adapted art form that Hisakado has made a name for himself through, and one that he continues to successfully tinker with.
These artists are just examples of the Asian names that are beginning to make themselves known beyond the Asian art market. This is simply an overview of the talent that is coming out of Asia, names that are beginning to seek and receive more prominence. Some are incorporating traditions from their own cultures into their contemporary art, as is Phi Phi Oanh, and others, like Robert Zhao and Donna Ong, are more difficult to define because of their new artistic directions. Ultimately, this is a scene that is changing rapidly, and is worth keeping a close and vigilant eye on.
Who are some of your favorite Asian artists?