j´s texts

Reflection Chernobyl - 1996


VIEWPOINT - Art and Social Context

Censorship in Germany

Censorship in Singapore

Critical Art Practice in Asia, Bangkok - March 1999

Headline Text 6



My text to Video "NO Human is Illegal", April 1998 - a collaboration with Stefan Römer
This work is related to the policies regulating the life of migrants in the fortress EU ( Euorpean Union )

It is necessary to question the social context of an administrative and bureaucratic system that functions to categorize people as "legal" or "illegal". This system bears a clear resemblance to the colonialist mentality that labels indigenous peoples as lazy, inferior, ignorant or despotic, or to the racist tendency to classify races or tribes within a hierarchical system, based on their lineage. These process, undertaken by governments and other agencies, have the effect of instrumentalizing and depreciating human life; of treating humans like commodities to be evaluated, embargoed and dispatched. The categorization of people into "legal" and "illegal" status is not confined to the west, but is replicated around the globe as a form of domination by the powerful and wealthy over the poor. Should we accept the implicit argument of this view, that human worth can be measured solely on the basis of our material possessions or affluence? Isn't there something more to being "human" than the opulence of our life-style? Are qualities such as humanity, compassion and tolerance no longer of any value?

Hinter der scheinbaren Bürokratie und Kategorisierung von Menschen in den Status von legal und illegal muß man den sozalen Kontext dieser Amtshandlung hinterfagen. Hat dies nicht Ähnlichkeit wie zur Ära der Kolonialisierung, als die Bewohner der kolonialisierten Laender von den Kolonialisatoren als faul, minderwertig, ignorant , orientalische Despoten bezeichnet wurden oder im Rassismus wo sich ein Volksstamm dem anderen nur aufgrund seiner Abstammung überlegen fühlt. Solche Vorgänge und Handlungen machen deutlich wie der Wert des Menschenleben herabgesetzt wird, sie werden wie Waren disponiert, ausgelagert und abgefertigt (fremdbestimmt).
Heute findet eine Kategorisierung in legal und illegal nicht nur ausschließlich im Westen statt, es geht um die Herrschaft der Wohlhabenden in der Gesellschaft über die nicht Wohlhabenden. Ist der materielle Reichtum Voraussetzung für die Eignung und das Recht andere Menschen abzuwerten oder gibt es da noch mehr verborgene Ängste in uns. Eigenschaften wie Menschlichkeit, Mitleid , Toleranz sind nichts mehr wert.

VIEWPOINT - Art and Social Context

An Interview published by "Art" in Dhaka, Sept.1998
Jay Koh visited Bangladesh this year to develop an exchange with the local art circle. He is a Singapore born artist now residing in Cologne, Germany. He founded arting in 1992 and IFIMA in 1997 (www.arting.com), which are both non-profit organizations. He requests that the pronoun 'I' when used in his article be in small letters as well as the name of his organisation, arting. ****************************************************************************
i work with art projects as an artist-curator and an artist. For me it is important to have colleagues to talk about the same issues in different ways, more subtly or directly. My concept is social art so why work alone?

arting is promoting social development through art, time based art, not just aesthetics. Art of the Euro-American mainstream and their educational institutions are more aesthetic based. i believe Asia should develop socially conscious art, on society relevant issues, especially now during these turbulent years. Art and its theories in the Asian historical cultural context, should be developed by ourselves. Look at Singapore, a very economically affluent country, but because of the lack of culture the people have no confidence, especially in situations of crises. Money itself is not enough. They build museums and galleries but invite artists who do very stereotyped or mainly aesthetic based kind of work, similar to image upgrading corporate art. The artists are not free to express themselves, they have to apply to the government for permission (for performances) therefore their art is stereotyped. i meet a lot of Singaporean artists abroad and have contact with them and so i have the opportunities to view their works.

Cultural imperialism does not depend on arms or technological superiority but consists of attacks from the intellectual side and the constant reinforcement of prejudices. In Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park" colonial opulence is presented through moral degradation of overseas properties (colonies). Kipling´s "Kim" shows how an Irish must earn merit to become part of the Sahib society. He writes about the First Mutiny (1857, India) as a schoolboy´s prank, a waywardness, using the voice of a collaborator: "Then came the Sahibs from over the sea and called them to most strict account". Lawrence of Arabia - desert romantic, Cecil Rhodes - finance genie of the superlative degree, Tarzan - chief justice of black Africa and Robinson Crusoe's triumph over barbarism and gaining of a very thankful and loyal Friday. This long taunting list does not end. When the white man reaches the Everest he is celebrated while the Sherpa who reached before him is not counted. Hollywood and European films continue beside literature and so called cultural exchange projects to propagate this cultural imperialism.

A lot of Asian people reinforce this way of thinking. They are educated in the west, blindly believing in its total superiorty while those at home follow the same blind faith. They accept all that comes from the west as superior. They do not analyze. i compare them to the collaborators of the colonists. So in the last thirty or forty years some third world writers have moved to the west to work, believing that by being in the center of power they will gain merit, abilities to initiate changes and easy funding for their work. This may be partly true. But now the work should be done here, in Asia. The need for change is felt. For example, the recent attempt by Thailand and the Phillipines to revise the policy of non-interference in the Asean group. Their proposal is courageous and presents the insight of progress. It is obvious why this proposal is not accepted by the rest, headed by Singapore the most well beloved neighbour.

i am promoting networking and non-Euro-Americancentric art through social critics with Asian artists and intellectuals for the last 3 or 4 years. We should set up a critical Asian forum together to use our own cultural background for development of society as an alternative to todays criteria which is Euro-Americancentric. The criteria of human rights. racism, economics and other things. The IMF protects the interests of the west and all this is being reinforced by the so called "cultural exchange". Cultural institutions and art projects of the respective highly industrialized nations are using culture as another instrument to promote the superiority of the west.

Independance and self esteem are the background for my Asian project. As the initial part of this project Thai artists went to Germany on a symposium on post-colonial cultural behavior. We talked about the Goethe Institute and other cultural institutions and the behavior of western artists coming to developing countries, events of Asian art organised by the west in the west. They impose their own conceptions and their structure into the events. They do not let the Asians exercise their autonomy. Of course not everything is running perfectly in Asia, there is corruption and the lack of criticism. Therefore, it is important that we discuss our problems among ourselves. We need the west as a partner but not as a teacher. This year Prof. Syed Manzoorul Islam has kindly consented to give a talk in Cologne. Further projects are planned to be carried out in various South East Asian countries.

In Dhaka, i noticed that the issue to survive as an artist is a very important one. The social system has difficulties in supporting numerous artists. But art is not a profession like medicine or engineering where on graduation you can start to earn a living. Artists who concentrate on selling their work are only technical persons, artisans. They can be compared to technocrats. For them, moral issues do not play a role. It is similar to scientists who say they have freedom for research or that science is free from manipulation, etc. They are not telling the truth because they ultimately need money for research and are dictated by their sponsors.

The art market is definitely conservative. The normal collector who can buy will never buy what is avanteguard or new. They will buy art as investment and as presentable objects, to be safe and acceptable. Where the artists and intellectuals are conscious about society, using art as an important tool for social development, which is most valuable for our development these, people should be honored for using art in this way. The concept of the person, the character of the artist is very important as it makes him different from the artisan and technocrats.

The city of Cologne funds my work carried out in Cologne. The work in Asia is based mostly on my private engagement with sporadic sponsoring here and there. i receive great encouragement from intellectuals and fellow artists in Germany and Europe who share my ideas and who would like to come to Asia to work in this context. But they have difficulties in getting funds for their work because their work does not coincide with the ideas and concepts of art that the authorities would like to sponsor.

i would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people of Bangladesh for the warm welcome and the chance to work with them.

Censorship in Germany

The well established tradition of art sponsorship and cultural patronage by the private sector in Germany recently experienced an interesting incident perhaps signalling wider and major changes in the practice. To obtain an image transfers from an 'art sector' where it is considered to signify an indeterminate factor, independent thinking, perhaps even a notion of neutrality; representing an investment with uncertain outcome or return qualities deemed 'in line' with the corporate identity of a profit based company. Such an exercise contains perceivable and to a large extent cosmetic surface. One just have to look at the fact that the separation of the social contexts of the producer from the individual motivation and selfsubstantiation is not possible beside the Foucault´s thesis that each author just as each art work must explain its existence.

To project a liberal and sophisticated social attitude, the autonomy of art and it´s accompanying apparatus are 'employed' in concepts like the PPP (Public Private Partnership): to portray community responsibility by profit oriented corporations through an appropriation of Beuys' citation in social sculpture " Kunst gleich Kapital", leading to the thesis; "Art as the Avant-garde of the Economy"1 promoting new roles while advancing the ideologies of participating corporations through cultural activities. Is this a new rhetoric strategy of the dominating economy?2 Years before where they are satisfy with their company´s logo and acknowledgment in publicised materials, now they have a department of curators (e.g. Siemens KulturalProgramm) to deal out art projects and to offer part and parcel shows wrapped in cultural context3 or to create social acceptances for an industrial technology.4
What motivations does a corporation like Siemens have in a group show containing artists selected to highlight critical positions in painting in the late 90's? After domesticating the show´s title from "Political Paintings" through "Critical Paintings" to "Brushholder Value – Soll Haben Schein Sein" in the Westfaelische Kunstverein, Münster, 25th June to 9th August 98. Is this witty title intended to be read in contrast to "Shareholder Value", a concept of (surplus) value practiced in corporate ideology. Here it appears that the public relations and corporate communications interests of the company seek to rhetorically align the arts and private sectors to augment corporate identity. 5
Dirk Luckow, curator of the Siemens Kulturprogramm, and Heinz Liesbrock, director of the Westfaelische art society explain that the exhibition attempts to display varying critical positions in painting in the late 90´s to focus on painting as it references social realities, rather than the technicalities of the medium, in this way perhaps creating some lasting impressions.6

The Case

Four days before the opening, the participating artists met with the curators to co-ordinate a publication that was due to be released during the exhibition. Dirk Luckow informed Schmidt that a significant modification to his contribution would be required for it to be included, offering by way of an explanation the statement that the sponsors were not likely to accept his proposal.7 Luckow was referring to Schmidt´s sketches for a paintings-based installation, which included, amongst other things, drawings that alluded to the image of Heinrich von Pierer (Chairman of the Siemens Board of Directors), a photo of a pair of hands handcuffed behind a back, Schmidt´s account statement showing the crediting of the artist´s fee and accompanying texts containing 31 questions: How many of your managers are presently in jail?; What kind of question on "corporate culture" can elicit an answer?; What is the relationship between a corporation´s Kulturprogramm and a corporation?; What interest does "Siemens" have in Slovenia? (Siemens is building a nuclear reactor there ); Do you think I will become more valuable if I´m shown by Siemens?
It leaves no doubt as to the addressee "Herr von Siemens" the questions on culture and corporate politics were put to Heinrich von Pierer.
But it should also interest anyone that works with Siemens, an international corporation with deprived responsibilities to the forced labours under the nazi regime, implicated in nuclear scandals and corruption operations8 and that the extreme rightwing Armin Mohler is the director of the "Carl-Friedrich von Siemens Foundation" 'til 1985 a position since held by Heinrich Meier, a member of the "Franz Schönhuber Foundation" (extreme right wing) and secretary of the NPD (National Party of Germany) associated school magazine Im Brennpunkt.9 This foundation is a palladium of ideology education of the "new rights".10

The completed painting as part of the installations does show a man with von Pierer's portrait (with bandaged mouth) tied backward handcuffed hands to a tree standing in a wood surrounded with the collaged questions. Reactions to Sketch/layout: Liesbrock judged it as "puerile", the style as "yellow press". Luckow made the statement "If I show this work in the exhibition, I´ll certainly loose my job at Siemens". Schimdt was threatened with expulsion if changes were not made to his work and catalog contributions, although Schmidt´s critical background11 was known. Was this a short sighted manoeuvre of a classical "friendly takeover" of sponsoring critics.12 Liesbrock followed up with " under the influence of a RAF terrorist aesthetic"( Red Army Fraction ) labeling the collaged texts as "unaesthetic" and "not apt for presentation in my institution", only as intention to create "a little scandal". Luckow agreed, adding that if the contribution had come from a well known artist like Hans Haacke, it would without doubt have been accepted by Siemens. Needless to say, the exclusion of Schmidt´s installation stand in direct contrast to the utopian Siemens ideology fed to the public by "corporate communications" channels: "The artist´s freedom in creation is the highest commandment".13

The other "scandal" to the incident was the total absence of solidarity from the colleagues of Dirk Schmidt. They are Regina Kloeckner( Düsseldorf ), Jutta Koether( New York ), Gunter Reski ( Berlin ), Joseph Sappler ( Düsseldorf ) and Zhou Tie Hai ( Shanghai ), neither the artists´ fee( 1000 DM ) nor the prestige of the show seem to be the decisive factor for this nonchalance. Artists should take every opportunity to discuss the role of art in relation to hegemony powers. Since Hans Haacke censored by the Guggenheim Museum ( New York 1971 ) over his work on real estate speculation in Manhattan and in the late 80´s, spate of conservative attacks on culture institutions in the USA where shows like those from Richard Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano were called off, institutions influence on culture practice has reached a new proportions.14

During the mid 90´s in europe, censorship on the erotic drawings of the american Ellen Cantor received almost no attention.15 Are these signs of resignation to the overwhelming threat of neo art-conservatism under Public Private Partnership? Perhaps we should recalled Haake´s second censorship ( his work "Manet-Projekt 74" in Cologne exhibition " Projekt ´74 – Kunst bleibt Kunst ), where fellow colleagues, Daniel Buren protests by pasting Photocopies of Haake´s work on his own piece which lead to it´s removal and Marcel Broodthaers expanded his work to 2 palms instead of the original one – a resignation rather than a victory sign, after all still a signal.16

Are the contributions of Dirk Schmidt´s colleagues a reflection of today´s artist codex?

1 Comp. Andreas Grosz, a communications specialist, in an article for a series in the rightwing christian conservative newspaper Rheinischer Merkur, 17.7.98.
2Comp. Stefan Roemer, Konkret9/98 & Springerin – Bd.IV Issue 3, Sept.-Nov.98 "When political iconography tested the limit of Public Private Partnership Censorship of a painting exhibition in the Westfalen Art Society in Münster by the Siemens Kulturprogram” (translated from the german).
3 The BMW exhibition, "The Art of the Motorcycle” in Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York 1998.
4 " Gen Worlds - Prometheus in the Laboratory?" in Art & Exhibition Halls of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn 98/99
5 Comp. Barbara Heiss "Always trouble with sponsoring” (translated from german), Texte zur Kunst, September 1998.
6 Comp. Comp. "To show the transparency in the production and the art of painting” (translated from the German), p.7, exhibition catalogue; "Brushholder Value-Soll Haben Schein Sein” Westfälischer Art Society, Münster, 1998.
7 Comp. Press release of Dierk Schmidt.
8 Comp. Stefan Römer, Konkret9/98 & Springerin – Bd.IV Issue 3, Sept.-Nov.98 "When political iconography tested the limit of Public Private Partnership Censorship of a painting exhibition in the Westfalen Art Society in Münster by the Siemens Kulturprogram” (translated from the german).
9 Comp. Jens Mecklenburg ( Ed. ) Handbuch deutscher Rechtextremismus, Berlin 1996.
10 Comp. Peter Kratz, Siemens for example...., R.Hethey / P.kratz ( Ed.), In bester Gesellschaft, Göttingen 1991.
11 Schmidt was one of the curators that published the documentation of the Congress, Cologne 1995 "Messe 2.o.k. – Oekonomiese machen"( economy defeatist ) Siemens' bid to sponsor this Congress failed because negotiations broke down after no agreement could be reached on the placement of sponsor's labels and the extent of their involvement in public relations for the Congress. Regina Klöckner, Joseph Sappler and arting, Cologne participated in this Congress.
12 Comp. Barbara Heiss "Always trouble with sponsoring” (translated from german), Texte zur Kunst, September 1998.
13 Comp. Comment from the director of Siemens Kulturprogramm, Michael Rossnagel, in D.Delhaes, Die Macht der Farben: "The Siemens Kulturprogramm belongs to the most progressive in Germany”, Rheinischer Merkur, 7.8.98
14 Comp. Investigation of Sylvia Kafehsy's Project Censorship – Zensur in Kunst und Kultur heute ( 29.09 - 20.11.94 ), in Shedhalle Programm´94, Zurich 1995.
15 Kleines Helmhaus, Zurich 1995 and Cabinet Gallery, London 1996.
16 Comp. Barbara Heiss "Always trouble with sponsoring” (translated from german), Texte zur Kunst, September 1998.

Censorship in Singapore

Recent censorship of an international art exhibition in the lion city starkly follows and illustrates the conservative policy regulating Singaporean society since it's independence. Attempts to improve it's tattered image by heavily investing in cultural events and the establishment of museums do little in the face of such measures to inspire creativity or provide the confidence necessary to build or maintain a cultural heritage.
A subservient and obedient population conditioned by brainwashing (multiple public campaigns through propaganda of the state. {1} and educational 'channeling' over the last several decades now constitutes a highly efficient technocracy, where contemporary artists and creative intellectuals have to negotiate occupational minefields to work domestically and are plagued by such conditioning while working abroad. Recent legislation requiring performance artists to apply for permits enabling them to express themselves is a further instance of the unwelcome encroachment of censorial tendencies on the cultural life of the city.

It is difficult to access this situation from europe and i do not wish to speculate any further but judging from the news coverage ( see below ), it appears that the artists did not coordinate their actions in response to this censorship on their project. i believe strongly that it is indeed naive from the organiser( the australians ) of the project and the participating artists to believe that they could make a contructive art show in a country like singapore or a clear concept to what kind of messages they wish to present. Signing an 21-page agreement on``sensitive to the cultural context of the exhibit's venue'' and ``no identification of personality'' with the Singapore Art Museum indeed top it up.{2} They should realise that art are used by multi.national corporation to enhance their public image or as part of an acceptance strategie{3} and was used as a "kind" of ideological weapon by the US goverment in the 50´s and formalized in the 60´s by the NEA.{4}

1 campaigns like the WOG-western oriented gentlemen in the 70´s or the one in the late 80´s to 90´s that aim to procreate intelligent offsprings by promoting datings and marriages between adults with academic education while other campaigns rationalise the promotion of "keep smiling" and the renunciation of chewing gums. The latest campaign, "Make kindness part of culture, say The Primeminister(PM)"-Nov.9th 1998/The Straits Times with students maintaining kindness diaries and the challenge to Singaporeans to make kindness and consideration part of their culture. The PM took care to portray Singapore Kindness Movement not as a government campaign but a followup to PM's call to develop a more gracious society.
2 see news article below: Tessi Cruz "Sensitivity" but not censorship in ban

3 see my article: Censorship in Germany
4 Comp. Michael Brenson, Resisting the Dangerous Journey: The Crisis of Journalistic Criticism. Lectures in various US universities in the late 94`s and early 95`s. Published as Paper Nr.4, Visual Arts by Andy Warhol Foundation, April 1995.

the following texts was sent to me by a concern artist as this action was suppressed in the singapore press.

Hello thought you might want to read this from Hongkong Newspaper. Although the exhibiton was in Singapore there was no news coverage in Singapore about the incident. The work censored was an installation with a cartoon showing the prime minister spraying insecticide which issued out "penalties" on the garden grounds. Senior minister Lee Kuan Yew patting on the back of the current Primeminister Goh Chok Tong for being a good gardener. There was a text and video about life in "Lee's garden". Actually I felt the image was a bit cliched and simplistic however the censorship actually made it a more interesting work.

Artists denounce Singapore censorship as `unprofessional'
by May Tam

STORY: TWELVE artists from Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia issued a statement on Friday condemning the removal by Singapore authorities of art works by the Hong Kong cartoonist Zun Zi.
The artists, calling the act ``disrespectful'' and ``unprofessional'', asked that Zun Zi be compensated.
The joint condemnation came a day after four art works of the controversial Hong Kong political cartoonist were taken down from the Singapore Art Museum for allegedly vilifying two of Singapore's key public figures _ elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The art works were removed after Zun Zi rejected a demand from the Ministry of Information and Arts to delete vital portions of his works. The cartoonist said the museum staff threw all his art works into the rubbish bin. Zun Zi is one of several Hong Kong artists participating in an ongoing art exchange program with artists from Singapore and Australia. In their statement released to the Museum and the Artists' Regional Exchange (ARX) on Friday, the 12 artists described the removal of Zun Zi works as having been done in a ``disrespectful and unprofessional manner''.

The statement also requested:
That the works be reinstated in their original form, or a form agreeable to the museum, ARX and artists;
That the authorities respond to the program's contract terms requiring the artists to present at least one art work;
That Zun Zi be compensated for the loss or destruction of his art works;
That a written document be displayed acknowledging that the works had been removed; and
That the video documentation showing the event include Zun Zi's works.
However, Zun Zi said on Friday night there had been no response from the Singapore authorities.
Another Hong Kong artist who participated in the program, Anthony Leung Po-shan, said not everything was negative about the controversy. She said after the handover Hong Kong artists still enjoyed their freedom, and the fact that they had encountered censorship during a cultural exchange overseas should not be seen as negative. ``The first thing that could be encountered in a cultural exchange is cultural conflict,'' she said. Ms Leung said this led to a debate among the participants, which was a source if inspiration. The Hong Kong artists including Zun Zi who joined the program were expected to fly back to Hong Kong on Saturday. Officials from the Singapore Art Museum and the Ministry of Information and Arts were unavailable for comment.

and MORE...

`Sensitivity' but not censorship in ban
by Tessi Cruz

THE 15 artists who were invited to join in the Artists Regional Exchange in Singapore _ including Hong Kong's Zun Zi whose art works were excluded _ knew they had to be ``sensitive to the cultural context of the exhibit's venue'', a Singaporean official claims.
Kwok Kiam Chow, director of the Singapore Art Museum, made the claim after the participating artists from Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia condemned the last-minute decision to remove Zun Zi's works.
Mr Kwok said the artists had signed a 21-page agreement wherein it was stipulated that they should be ``sensitive to the cultural context of the exhibit's venue'' and that there should be ``no identification of personality'' in the art works. He said there was ``consensus'' among the organisers in the decision on Zun Zi's pieces and that the Hong Kong Museum of Art did not object to it.
Zun Zi's creations that were removed from the exhibit, which began on Thursday, included a 2.5-metre caricature depicting Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Kwok said Zun Zi's works were removed 15 minutes before the exhibition opened. He did not want to tag the act as censorship but explained the city-state did not allow work satirising their leaders.
Hong Kong Museum of Art curator in modern art Tang Hoi-chiu commented that ``different regions'' had ``different views''. But he said they would have to look into the case in detail and not just depend on media reports before making further comments.
One of the Hong Kong artists who joined the exhibition feared his Singaporean colleagues may lose their jobs.
Anthony Leung Po-shan said some of the Singaporean artists were teachers in the Singapore Art Academy and they may be reprimanded for siding with Zun Zi.

and MORE...

Artists seek political messages pledge
26.oct.98 - Hong Kong Standard

STORY: FIVE Hong Kong artists who participated in an arts exchange project have demanded that the organiser, Australia, clarify whether political messages could be conveyed in art works. In a statement yesterday the artists cited the case of Hong Kong cartoonist Zunzi, whose art works were censored by Singaporean authorities at a recent showing in Singapore.
The incident happened on 1 October but there had been no clear response from organisers ARX5, made up of Australian artists, art staff and curators. The program involved five artists from Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia taking turns holding exhibitions. They were to produce at least one piece of artwork about Singapore, to be exhibited in the Singapore Art Museum.
However, works by Zunzi were removed from the museum and stuffed into a rubbish bag because of the satirical messages they conveyed about Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
The statement by the five Hong Kong artists, including Zunzi, asked the ARX5 to respond to questions. Their major concern was the extent to which art works could carry political messages in future. They also asked if it was necessary to review their contracts to enhance their works' protection, and wanted to know how such incidents could be prevented.
Zunzi told the Hong Kong Standard, ``If we are to be restricted by instructions from the relevant institutions, that is not an art exchange''.
According to the ARX5, programs are to be held in Hong Kong and Australia next year. But Zunzi wants ARX5's position clarified. He said he had no intention of producing works that were defamatory, offensive, obscene, or contravened the law of the host country _ Singapore _ as per the ARX5 agreement. His works were produced with sincerity and were a direct reflection of what he felt during his stay in Singapore. He was being ``punished'' for his true beliefs and his human right of expression violated.

Critical Art Practice in Asia

This text was contributed by Jay Koh during the discussion evening "Critical Art in Thailand - a constructive dialogue with the west" at the FCCT( Foreign Correspondence Club Thailand ) on the 5th March, 1999 in Bangkok.

The doctrine of cultural supremacy has always been used consiously as an instrument for justifying the right to rule1. Claims to cultural supremacy are advanced with the intention of imposing the ideologies and opinions of the ruling body on another race or culture. This was the case, for example, in the history of the South Asian Sub-Contintent where a mere 100,000 colonialists lorded over 50 million indigenous folk. The eradication of regional trade in the Southeast Asian Archipelagoes to make way for the activities of The East India Company and the large scale importation of migrant laborers serve as further examples of the power exercised by those in positions of authority2. The main tool used for the reenforcement and justification of these measures in the colony and the construction of local consent are fiction and intellectual literature. These mediums were used to create aquiensence(acceptance strategie) in the social environment of local spaces. They also helped to maintain this acceptance through the justification of exploitation and the creation of supremacy for one and prejudice for the other based on races origin. Examples are illustrated through fictional narratives like Jane Austern's ”Mansfield's Park”, Rupyard Kipling's ”Kim”3 , figures like Cecil Rhodes – finance genie of the superlative, Tarzan – chief justice of black Africa and Robinson Crusoe's triumph over barbarism and the gaining of loyal Friday. This long taunting list continues....... to the exclusion of the Sherpa in the celebration of the first man to reach the summit of Mt.Everest. In the aftermath of 2nd World War when the Americans assumed the primary role in heralding the post-colonial era, art and sport were used as ideological weapons in the cold war. This process was formalised in the 60's by the National Endowment for the Arts4. In Thailand, art was use nationally to stabilise the ruling class5. Continuing through the present day, Hollywood and European films and other mediums of artistic expression globalise ideas through visual and print media. Cultural exchange projects and programmes from the west including Japan and Australia continue this globalizing process.

From all these creative and travel endeavors emerged the Eurocentric criteria currently in use. I call it ”The Scale” used to judge the rest of the world, the universal and the ideal form. It is a naive simplification of good and bad. This ”Scale” judges the Westernisation of the Non-Western World as a mere copying of the West. It is describes by critics as attaining only the superficialities of the West without the ”qualities”6. No consideration has been made of the evolution of hybrid culture in the respective non-western cultures. This can be viewed as stemming from the influence of the colonial past and present day post-colonial cultural and economic practices of the West. It is without doubt that this hybrid culture7, in the form of the adoption of western cultures,institutions, and fashions lacks a public forum for constructive critism. But non-Western artistic advances are taking place in a unique environment with a clear influence from Western culture on the respective traditional one and not mere copying.
In Thailand and the Phillipines, the cultural and intellectual discourses in public are in their infancy. They are generally found in the form of protest movements. Similar discources resounding through the rest of Asia are classified as subversive elements to be prosecuted and punished when they conflict with dominant sources of authority. In Thailand, Western culture was integrated into the state apparatus to manipulate the masses and to strengthen the governing authority in forms of attainable desire and reward that coincide with the animism belief of the Thais8. My colleagues, friends and I have made references to the injustice of using "The Scale”. We had made these criticisms in the company and with the support of Western journalists. Interest in and comprehension of this issue was quick to follow and this encourages us today to attempt a constructive dialogue with Western journalism to realise this acknowledgement of injustice in their work. We are assured by most of the journalists that their understanding of openess does not only follow the concept of propagated democracy resting on measures leading to open market for foreign multinationals or the monopoly of foreign expertise. The question is, when will this acknowledgement becomes substantial and in evidence. Our effort is inline with the pioneer direction taken by Thailand and The Phillipines in their call for more openess in the affairs and dealings of the asian countries. Our call is certainly not new as intellectuals in this country have preceeded us with similar calls for discussion to initiate changes in face of the present economic crises or in the name of social development in the past.

Concrete suggestions of constructive critism are that critics of works of artists, activists and intellectuals to be reflected through their cultural history, present hybrid culture if obvious, not just on using the eurocentric ”Scale”, consideration of the artists background and their available of resources. We ought to question the intentions and integrity of cultural exchange projects and programmes. We must pose out questions at the level of individuals, groups and institutions. Multiple examples of these questions and art projects can be given here taking examples of recent art events in Thailand and Germany. The fluxus art projects and art exchange programme of the Goethe Institut, What benefits does it bring to the local cultural scene and the artists? Does the locals have the autunome to determine such programme?; the EU-Thai show " Alter Ego ”9, It's that not just a cheap propaganda show? and the Hong Kong art show in the Asian Fine Arts Factory in Berlin10 where art was reduce to statistics as an exotic consume product.

1Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
2Syed Hussein Alatas , The Myth of the Lazy Native
3Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism
4Michael Brenson, "Resisting the Dangerous Journey: The Crisis of Journalistic Criticism". Lectures in various US universities in the late 94's and early 95's. Published as Paper Nr.4, Visual Arts by Andy Warhol Foundation, April 1995.
5Thanom Chapakdee, Ideology and Contemporary Art in Thailand, 1950 -1990
6Paul Harrison, Inside the Third World, UK 1986
7Homi K. Bhaba: The Location of Culture. New York 1994
8Thanom Chapakdee, Ideology and Contemporary Art in Thailand, 1950 -1990
9"Alter Ego", Silpakorn Art centre, February 1999, Bangkok.
10"The New Face of Hong Kong", Asian Fine Arts Factory, Berlin in Dec.98 - Jan.99

Headline Text 6

Text 6

All copyrights on this page © by the author