Asian Art News Another Asia

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Mak Remissa, A red ant carries a fish scale on a tree leaf at Barkou village, Kandal province (detail , from When the Water rises, the Fish eats the Ant; When the Water recedes, the Ant eats the Fish) , 2005. All photographs: Courtesy of the respective photographers and Noorderficht Photofestival Another Asia unless otherwise noted. 48 ASIAN ART NEWS JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007 T he Dutch photofestival, No01'derli-cht, turned its spotlight on Asia that featured photography from South and Southeast Asia under the title Another Asia. Since Noordedicht began in 1990, it has become one of the most progressive festivals of photography in the world. In alternate years its focus has been on non-Western artists. This has included emerging and es-tablished photographers from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Another Asia offered a sketch of the region through the work of local and Western photographers, and historic images of South and Southeast Asia. Sixty-four photographers from 21 countries were featured in Another Asia, which ended on October 29, 2006. The biggest curatorial challenge for 2006 was finding work to represent the region comprehensively. While there was usually some form of groundwork available for curator Wim Melis when he had organized other non-Western editions, this time he almost had to sta1t his research for Another Asia from scratch. Thankfully, for some countries featured, Melis had the luxmy of the knowledge of well-known photographers such as Shahidul Alam and Raghu Rai, who have had close-up views of the development of photography in their respective countries, Bangladesh and India. Amongst the points that he raises in his essay for Noorderlicht, the Magnum photographer Raghu Rai ar-gues that a newspaper with-out good images is "a faceless entity. " "Though the number of pages in newspapers has grown in the past forty years, the space for photographers is shrinking, " Rai writes in ref-erence to the situation in In-dia. "The design, the look of the pages, is paramount, but pictures of half-nude models or film stars have replaced serious photographic docu-mentation of social causes and concerns. " Young curators such as Alex Su partono, from Indonesia, and Sue Hajdu , from Hungary, have also provided Melis with valuable insights on the state of pho-tography in Indonesia and the countries bordering the Mekong respectively. In her essay for Noorderlicht, Hajdu sketches the development of Vietnam's photographic cul-ture through two terms found Tri Huu Luu, Sri Lanka (from untitled series on Buddhism of South Asia), 1996- 2006. "which is perhaps the closest equivalent associations." Other than the essay, she to 'photography' but is artistic, intellectual, also presented two sets of work, To Chou and somewhat literary in its connotations, " Choufrom Texas (2000) and Miss Peacock and chup hinh, which refers to "practices (2001), in the historical section of Another such as studio portraiture or amateur snaps Asia. The two installations were made and rarely escapes its amateur or artisan from images she had collected from junk shops in Saigon. "Saigon rHo Chi Minh City] is unique in the Mekong region for having a little street that trades thou-sands of images from personal albums each year, in a process that turns personal mem01y into cultural memory, " writes Hajdu. "These examples of chup hinh photography are purchasable in Saigon pre-cisely because of the social dislocation caused by war and emigration, with many families having to leave their photo albums behind. " The situation in Cambodia is much bleaker. "Cambodia's ' photographic blank' continued through the 1980s-people were simply too poor and desperate with daily survival to consider tak-ing pictures, even at important occasions such as weddings and funerals," Hajdu writes. "It is no surprise then, that the Audio-Visual Resource Center planned to open in late 2006, in Phnom Penh, which will gather Cambodia's photo-graphic history from around the world, is being greeted with enthusiasm." in Vietnamese, nhiep anh, Tri Huu Luu, Vietnam (from untitled series on Buddhism of South Asia), 1996-2006. For the discerning viewer, Hajdu's article pro-vides the perfect introduction to the Vietnamese, Cambo-JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007 ASIAN ART NEWS 49 Bui Huu Phuoc, In the Dorm (from Departure) , 2005, gelatin-silver print. Vandy Rattana, Untitled (from Self-Portraits), 2005-2006. Zann Huizhen Huang, Sney, 14, a homeless orphan sniffs glue with his buddy in a secluded alley in Siem Reap, Cambodia (from Cambodian Glue Kids) , 2005. 50 ASIAN ART NEWS dian, and Laotian photographers featured in Another Asia. Often, their approach is unpretentious and fresh, which is inevitable since whatever aesthetic traditions they had before the Vietnam War or Pol Pot's rule have to be reconstructed by contemporary artists. Photography seems particularly well-suited to this end. T he works of Tri Huu Luu and Bui Huu Phuoc, two Vietnamese photog-raphers, are both steeped in realism, but their motivations are entirely different. Tri Huu Luu's series on Buddhism in South Asia 0996-2006) has to be viewed within the context of his search for identity within American society, where he eventually went as a refugee in 1989 to escape conscription for the war between Vietnam and Cambodia. Initially, he threw himself into American culture to hide from the things he didn't want to face. "After the War, my father, who had worked for the US government, was sent to a concentration camp and after he was released, was forced to move to the countryside," recalls Luu, who did his undergraduate and post-graduate studies in photography in America. Life was harsh during the post-war years. Luu's family would give everything just to have rice and a piece of yam for a meal. "Many people in South Vietnam inevitably saw America like a dreamland where everything was perfect, " he says. "But, when I went to the States, it was considered unpopular and shameful to be Vietnamese. " Only when he took a religion course in college did Luu understand better the faith of his mother and became more assured of his identity. Seven years after his mother's death, he returned to Vietnam and journeyed across Asia to learn about Buddhism. Through the images that he shot in monasteries, Luu is not trying to achieve a specific goal or convey a certain message. "It is more about my learning experience in the Buddhist temples in Asia and how these encounters can be shared with others through photography," says Luu, who is based in New York. In a way, Luu's focus on the manifestations of spirituality in the physical world is a tribute to his mother who worked as a seamstress during the post-war years to provide for her family. Bui Huu Phuoc's Departure (2005) is steeped in a powerful realism. He was born in Saigon but he didn' t leave for America, but stayed in Vietnam where he received his photographic education at the Ho Chi Minh City Cultural Arts College. Here, Phuoc was tutored by Bui Xuan Huy, who had studied at New York's School of Visual Arts. Huy, with his liberal approach to photography, has been a source of inspiration to his students. While Phuoc cites Garry Winogrand, Nan Goldin, and Diane Arbus as the artists he loves, it is not immediately apparent how they have influenced Departure. Although the series JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007 Above left: Mak Remissa, A red ant carries a dried fish on a string at Preakompeus village; above left: Mak Remissa, Kandal province, A fish chases a red ant that has dropped from a tree into the water at Preakompeus village, Kandal province, (both from When the Water rises, the Fish eats the Ant; When the Water recedes, the Ant eats the Fish), 2005. is photojournalistic in character, it is also possible to consider the images as stills of a film narrative. The narrative evolves around 22-year-old Toan, a second-year student at the Economic University in Ho Chi Minh City, whom Phuoc chanced upon when he was there for another project. Toan's life characterizes the situation in rural Vi et-nam, where each family can only afford to send one child to school. Therefore, the opportunity for a better life sits firmly on this child's shoulders. When he first broached the idea, Toan was naturally uneasy. After spend-ing time with Toan, his family, and friends, Phuoc finally got the go-ahead. Most of the works in Departure were taken in Toan's dormitoty and at his family's home. "I would take a seat next to them and talk about their lives," Phuoc says. "I would also follow them around to try to capture them in the best angles. Generally, when you point a camera at Vietnamese people, they will give you a smile. " In Vietnam, where the idea of art pho-tography is relatively new, Phuoc's Departure has been greeted with mixed response, some viewers claiming that the work is nothing more than press photography. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007 Similarly, when Mak Remissa and Vandy Rattana showed their projects in Cambodia, the most supportive reception came from the expatriate community. "The level of education in Cambodia is still low, and without the right education, Cambodians will not be able to give critical ideas to what they have seen," says Vandy Rattana. "We don't even hav