TRACING THE IMPACT OF COLONIALISM AND TECHNOLOGY ON SOUTHEAST ASIAN CULTURE
With a specific curatorial theme that challenges art enthusiasts to reflect on Southeast Asian societal issues that transcend the historic, long, bloody Vietnam War to further back in its French colonial days, “Far from Indochine” intends to spark a lively discourse on imperialism’s impact on current-day themes in art and life originating from that region.
The 19th Century French colonialism of Southeast Asia wrought havoc on the entire region, altering local culture while engulfing the nations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and later ensnarling Burma (now Myanmar), Malaysia and Thailand. It would affect all facets of expressive, emotional content including traditional architecture, literature, visual arts, chanting, music and dance. Now, the entire region is blossoming with a rebirth of conjoined past and present-day themes in art and culture.
The world is getting smaller with the instantaneous global reach of the Internet, around-the-clock social networking and the ease of airline travel, allowing the rich diversity of world cultures to readily cross national boundaries and merge, at times clashing, with unexpected energy. The resulting incongruity is fascinating to consider, and “Far From Indochine” invites everyone to ponder a mosaic of these vibrant social dynamics that transform local culture and, in essence, transform the very fabric of indigenous ethnic consciousness.
In Kathryn and Ross Petras’ 1996 book, “World Access: The Handbook for Citizens of the Earth,” Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, speaking on the subject of French colonialism, is reported as having said, “The biggest weapon
wielded and actually daily unleashed by colonialism … is the cultural bomb.”
In the book, the authors offer “An example of what Thiong’o is talking about: until the French decolonized Africa and [Southeast] Asia, school- children in both Vietnam and Senegal read on the first page of their history, in French, ‘Our Ancestors, the Gauls…’”
The Petras further point out that one quality-of-life benefit derived from colonialism was the introduction of technology, education and railroads to move goods and people, as paved roads also increased local trade and commu- nity development.
One of three projects in the New Art Center exhibition, “Route 3” is a video art-project that follows a rollerblader taking an intriguing jaunt down just such a paved iconic road. Delivered with a three-channel perspective, “Route 3” is
part fact, part superstition, part mirage that takes the viewer on a meandering, mishmash, Asian magical mystery tour through a landscape shaped by frenzied economic development.
This iconic road leads from China south through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Along the way, the viewer is taken through the Chinese casino town of Boten, through Laos’s jungles and Buddhist rural villages, and into the Kingdom of Thailand, where saffron-robed monks, temples, religion and spirits abound. It then pauses in Cambodia, where Angkor Wat was a vast, magnificently ornate temple completely enveloped by the jungle as it was built in the 12th Century.
Boston-based multi-disciplinary artists David Kelley and Patty Chang, who collaborated on this project, said their script was developed through first-hand research and interviews with people along the road and consultations with French and local anthropolo- gists, government bureaucrats and local artists.
Kelley and Chang also worked with local Boten non-actors to perform dialogues and action in the casino town and at various sites along the road.
The New Art Center was founded in 1977 as a Newtonville community art resource center providing exhibition space for curators and artists and offering art-instruction classes to children and adults from Boston and the New England area.
Kathleen Smith Redman, the organization’s exhibitions director, said for their 2014-2015 season, NAC’s Curatorial Opportunity Program (COP) selected four exhibitions from 60 proposals submitted by independent curators from 17 states.
Redman said the COP facilitates a platform for partnering with guest-curators, artist-curators and curatorial teams, fostering risk-taking, shared authority and flexibility inducing vibrant intellectual exchanges on a host of profoundly exciting art and cultural themes.
“Far From Indochine” is the leadoff exhibition and is curated by teacher, writer and established independent curator Chuong-Dai Vo, who lives in Southern California. Vo has organized this exhibi- tion around four multi-disciplinary artists: Los Angeles-based Dewey Ambrosino, Saigon-based French artist Frédéric Sanchez, as well as Chang and Kelley, who often collaborate on projects.
Franklin W. Liu