February 22–May 22, 2013
No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia is the inaugural exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, a multi-year collaboration that will chart creative activity and contemporary art in three geographic regions—South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. Organized by June Yap, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, South and Southeast Asia, the exhibition focuses on the artistic practices and cultural traditions of that region, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India.
Following an exhibition model that is both integrative and contextual, No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia will reflect a range of the most salient cultural practices and intellectual discourses from these areas. Following its presentation in New York, the exhibition will travel to a venue in the focus region and one other elsewhere in the world. The artworks in the exhibition, along with others acquired as part of Guggenheim UBS MAP, will become part of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection.
No Country investigates the notion of culture as fundamentally borderless, revealing networks of influence and exchange within the region. Drawn from the opening line of William Butler Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium” (1928), which later inspired the title of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men (2005), the exhibition title underscores a central question: How is the designation “South and Southeast Asia” defined and understood internationally? No Country considers the impact of ethno-nationalism, historical colonization, and present-day globalization on identities in the region and examines how the region is marked culturally by its intertwined histories and shared social, religious, and creative traditions.
No Country examines the region from within, looking at the geopolitics of South and Southeast Asia through the work of a cross-generational selection of artists. The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance documentation, and examines a range of topics emerging from Ms. Yap’s curatorial investigations. These include cross-cultural encounters and negotiations; conceptions of nation, identity, and religion; historical interpretation and narratives; quasi-archival responses to cultural appropriation, and new developments in media and aesthetics.
About South and Southeast Asia
The nation-states of South and Southeast Asia are relatively young, having emerged from colonial resistance, intra-national division, and economic and political necessity. Yet culturally, the region is marked by its intertwined histories, and shared social, religious, and cultural practices. These continue to surface in spite of economic and political pressures for a definition of identity through distinctness. The region is also one of the most diverse areas in the world. This diversity is manifest in numerous ways, including differing economic regimes and degrees of development, and uneven income levels.
While the rest of the world’s continents can be neatly compartmentalized, the nations that make up South and Southeast Asia often have more differences than they do similarities. Diverse histories and geographical features, economic and political systems, and religious and cultural heritages across the region result in a multitude of cultural traditions and perspectives.
Southeast Asian countries include Brunei, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. South Asia comprises the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. However, the United Nations notes that the “assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories.”
Geographically, South and Southeast Asia are vast and diverse, and have been at the crossroads of many influences. Indian traders brought ancient Hinduism to Cambodia. The Hindus who settled in Bali mixed their religion with local animism to create a unique sect. Seafaring Arab merchants imported Islam to coastal areas of Malaysia and Indonesia. In Vietnam, the only Southeast Asian nation to fall directly under the control of past Chinese empires, China’s cultural influence remains powerful. From the late 1400s onward, Europeans imported Western culture to cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang, and Melaka; the European colonial imprint is still visible in the architecture and cuisine of most countries in the region.
Many religious beliefs are represented, including the teachings of Buddhism, the deities of Christianity and Hinduism, and the rules of Islam. Mixed with ancient spiritual teaching is the frenetic buzz of modernity. Cosmopolitan cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Mumbai are already major urban hubs, while up-and-coming cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and Bangalore combine modern development with traditional customs. The culture, business, and fashion in its major urban centers challenges the biggest European and American cities for their status as global hubs.
South and Southeast Asia are experiencing the long-term impact of global forces. Modernization has produced substantial gains in such areas as life expectancy and education, but has also spread dislocation and misery. As the region’s economies have grown, the environment has become polluted and natural resources have been savagely exploited. As this transition takes place, people are moving from an era of European colonial economies built on the lucrative spice trade to twenty-first-century technical jobs created in the age of computers, biotechnology, and the Internet.