Sharmistha Ray, ‘Thinking Collections: Open Studios | Artists at EFA,’ Artist Studio, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Midtown, New York (20 October 2018). Courtesy Asia Contemporary Art Week. Photo: Li Fong.
Asia Contemporary Art Week: Diary #6: 15–26 October 2018
In the final two weeks of October, there seemed to be a shift of focus in the 13thedition of Asia Contemporary Art Week’s (ACAW) exhibitions in New York. Beginning on 15 October with Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri’s evening of film and conversation with Assistant Curator Sophie Cavoulacos at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the fortnight’s shows might best be described as improvisational, with an emphasis on the act of art-making itself. Many of these artists from South Asia, the Middle East and East Asia pushed boundaries beyond convention to invent their own standards of quality.
For peripatetic Al Qadiri—who was born in Senegal, raised in Kuwait and then spent a decade in Japan before moving to Lebanon—varied cultural experiences and childhood memories inform a range of scenarios used to consider the past and future of petrocultures. Often cross-dressing in films such as Abu Athiyya(Father of Pain) (2013), and modulating her own voice in gender-fluid roles, Al Qadiri’s childlike but wry depictions, mingled with poetry and song, lament the loss of local culture. In other videos like Soap (2014), scenes from local soap operas laced with dark humour subtly decry issues of labour and hyper-capitalism in the Gulf. In her most recent video The Craft (2017), childhood recollections of the secrecy surrounding her parents’ employment in the Kuwaiti embassy were presented as an alien conspiracy. In the video, abductions and a spaceship resembling an American diner reflected the ubiquity of American culture in the Middle East during the artist’s childhood. In her conversation that evening, Al Qadiri discussed the significance of animation, cartoons and bizarre settings to depict the effect of oil heritage and technology on the erosion of history.