• Shows
  • Dec 18, 2023

“Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics”

THEASTER GATES, Afro-Ikebana, 2019, cast bronze, clay, and tatami mats. Photo by Theo Christelis. Courtesy the artist and White Cube. 

On the occasion of Singapore Art Week 2024, The Institutum presents “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics,” a major exhibition that will feature 100 internationally acclaimed artists from the African and Asian continents and diasporas. This will be the first large-scale exhibition dedicated to the vibrant and interconnected narratives of these demographics to be held in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The exhibition draws from esteemed private collections across the region, and will provide a rare opportunity for audiences to engage intimately with an array of mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, moving image, textile, installation, and performance.

At its core, “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics” celebrates the inherent commonalities between the two cultures, transcending geographical and color divides by emphasizing shared experiences, trials and tribulations, spiritual practices, and more. The exhibition continues the seminal work of curators and scholars such as Joan Kee in her recently published title, The Geometries of Afro Asia, and the 2023 exhibition, “Indigo Waves and Other Stories,” curated by Natasha Ginwala and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung with Michelangelo Corsaro at Gropius Bau and Savvy Contemporary in Berlin. In contributing to the ongoing dialogues around seeking affinities among the Global Majority, the exhibition will serve as a further catalyst for cultural understanding and unity, resonating profoundly within Singapore’s multicultural fabric. 

“We seek to illuminate the threads that weave us together as people, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers,” notes curator Dr. Zoé Whitley, “Singapore, with its rich tapestry of cultures and identities, serves as an ideal platform to celebrate and amplify these connections.”

Detail of YANYUN CHEN, Scar Writings, 2023, mild steel and red wires. Photo by Joseph Nair. Courtesy the artist.  

Notable artists in the exhibition include Theaster Gates, whose concept of Afro-Mingei takes aspects of African-American vernacular craft and merges it with Japanese philosopher Soetsu Yangagi’s mingei concept. This concept celebrates and honors the humility of quotidian objects made by unnamed craftspeople, a notion conceived alongside ceramicists Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada. Ogawa Machiko, another luminary in the exhibition, broke new ground as one of the first women to study ceramics at Tokyo University of the Arts. Her distinct approach to ceramics, honed during her intensive study of West African methods of forming and treating clay in Burkina Faso, adds a rich layer to the exhibition.

The exhibition also ventures into themes of migration and displacement, language and identities, among others. In a remarkable juxtaposition, Singaporean artist Yanyun Chen and Nigerian artist Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu share in their parallel explorations around perspectives of scars and scarring in their respective cultures. In their evocative works, Igshaan Adams, Do Ho Suh and Zarina Hashmi each explore notions of home, weaving personal narratives into rich tapestries, ethereal sculptures and map-like drawings. Other highlights include works by Tuan Andrew Nguyen and The Otolith Group, who continue to offer nuanced and comprehensive perspectives into historical moments and movements that both complicate and expand the Afro-Asia framework. This confluence of diverse artistic explorations demonstrates the many connections and similarities shared across practices of different geographies.

By alighting on poetics, “Translations” proposes synergies and affinities across the artists featured in the exhibition and beyond, and acts as a continuation to the interconnectedness of Afro-Asia and its peoples. 

DO HO SUH, Stove, Unit 2, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2015, polyester fabric, stainless steel wire, and glass display case with LED lighting. Photo by Taegsu Jeon. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London. 

Partners and Collaborations

The exhibition will collaborate with esteemed partners such as Michelin-starred Restaurant Nouri and boutique ice cream brand Creamier. Chef Ivan Brehm of Nouri and Ghanaian Chef Selassie Atadika will present a distinctive “Crossroads of Afro-Asian Flavours” four-hands dinner. Complementing this fusion of cultural tastes, Creamier will unveil a new flavor inspired by the exhibition's essence during its tenure at Gillman Barracks. The exploration of Afro-Asian affinities is further strengthened by a venue partnership with ShanghART Singapore, and echoed in community partner Art Outreach’s upcoming exhibition, “Our Children by Tang Da Wu.” 

About The Institutum

The Institutum is a nonprofit institution based in Singapore dedicated to expanding the horizons for Singapore art by developing relationships with the global contemporary art community through international projects that respond to the local and Southeast Asian context. Notable projects include the commissioning of SEA: Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia (2023), edited by Ute Meta Bauer, Karin Oen, and Tan Boon Hui, and published by Weiss Publications; a five-year partnership with Gasworks in London supporting residencies for Southeast Asia artists; and presenting the installation “Justice For All: Yinka Shonibare” (2019) at The Arts House, Singapore. 

*Presented by The Institutum

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