Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia

Political Acts - Liew Teck Leong 'Body+Dots+Politics (Yellow),' 2016. Courtesy the artistA driving force in contemporary art across Southeast Asia, performance art will be the focus of a new free exhibition at Arts Centre Melbourne in Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia, presented as part of the inaugural Asia TOPA: Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts in Gallery 1 from 11 February 2017.

Political Acts will present a selection of artists’ films, photographs and installations by some of the pioneers of performance art in Southeast Asia including Dadang Christanto (Indonesia / Australia), Lee Wen (Singapore), Liew Teck Leong (Malaysia), Khvay Samnang (Cambodia), Moe Satt (Myanmar), Melati Suryodarmo (Indonesia) and Tran Luong (Vietnam).

“In the last decade performance art and performative practices have taken centre stage within the global contemporary art world,” says Curator, Dr Steven Tonkin. “The seven artists in Political Acts are ground-breaking practitioners of performance art. As individuals, they offer personal viewpoints on their respective national and regional cultures. As a collective, they illustrate interesting commonalities in artistic strategies and approaches.”

“Most importantly, these provocative contemporary artists highlight the major political, social, economic and environmental issues confronted and critiqued through performance art in Southeast Asia today.”

Dadang Christanto is an internationally acclaimed artist. Born in central Java in 1957, Christanto moved to Australia in 1999. He exhibits and performs regularly in both Australia and Indonesia and has spent his artistic life commemorating the victims of political violence and crimes against humanity.

Singaporean performance artist Lee Wen explores social identity and is best known for his Yellow Man performances. Painting his own body with bright yellow poster paint, he expresses an exaggerated symbol of his ethnic identity. He received the prestigious Cultural Medallion for his contribution to visual art in Singapore.

Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1970, Liew Teck Leong studied Fine Art at the Malaysian Institute of Art in the early 1990s, initially becoming an expressionist painter. In the 2000s his practice changed direction to incorporate installation, photography and public art performances, when he became an active member of the artists’ collective Rumah Air Panas/RAP Art Society.

Born in 1982, Khvay Samnang studied painting and graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, in 2006. He now works across performance, photography, video and installation. Khvay was one of the co-founders of the artists’ collective known as Stiev Selepak (or Art Rebels), and was involved in establishing the artist-run space Sa Sa Art Projects in Phnom Penh’s historic White Building. He is one of the leading Cambodian artists to have come to international attention over the last decade.

Born in Yangon in 1983, Moe Satt is one of the cohort of young artists who have begun to transform the contemporary art scene in Myanmar. Principally self taught, Moe Satt uses his body as the primary vehicle for his art, although his practice now also encompasses photography, film and installations. His artistic career mirrors the wider socio-political changes that have occurred in Myanmar over the last decade, from isolation under military rule to the current democratic reforms.

Born in 1969 in Surakarta (or Solo), Central Java, Indonesia, Melati Suryodarmo, grew up in the creative environment provided by her father Suprapto, founder of Amerta – an exploratory free-form dance movement. Suryodarmo sees her art practice as opening the door to new perceptions, traversing traditional cultural and political boundaries ‘in an effort to find [one’s] identity’.

Born in Hanoi in 1960, Tran Luong trained as a painter at the Hanoi University of Fine Arts. He achieved recognition as a member of the ‘Gang of Five’, a group of artists whose works were a catalyst for contemporary art in Vietnam from the late 1980s. A widely respected multidisciplinary artist, curator and mentor for the next generation of contemporary Vietnamese artists, his collaborative approach to art-making involves local communities.

“The inaugural Asia TOPA: Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts is an artistic celebration of our relationship with contemporary Asia,” says  Arts Centre Melbourne CEO, Claire Spencer. “Vital, fresh and always unpredictable, Asia TOPA offers a city-wide window onto the creative imaginations fuelling the many cultures of our region.”

“Cultural engagement is key to expressing who we are, where we have come from, and how we connect with each other across the Asia-Pacific region. The dazzling array of artists featured in Asia TOPA will provide new ways of understanding the deep connections that run between us all.”

Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia
Gallery 1 – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Exhibition: 11 February – 21 May 2017
Free admission

For more information, visit: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au or www.asiatopa.com.au for details.

Image: Liew Teck Leong, Body+Dots+Politics (Yellow), 2016 – courtesy the artist