The show at the newly established JWD Art Space features multiple artists exploring national identity and runs until Sept. 30.
Conceptualised as a large group exhibition, “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging)” emerges as a way to discuss, through visual art, national belonging in the context of Southeast Asia. Embracing a comparative approach to the region, the exhibition invites artists of different generations to consider the conceptions of identity and belonging beyond straightforward geographical perspectives, but from the artists’ subjectivities, premised in their personal observations on the meaning of nationality—as an individual or as a community.
Defined as “the official right to belong to a particular country,” how is nationality ascribed? Is nationality a tangible concept and, if so, how can it be represented? How does a flag, a map or an icon of political hegemony symbolise one’s own nationality? Or are heirlooms, traditions and cultural identity similarly significant expressions of the nation?
As the title implies, the exhibition is inspired by leading Southeast Asianist Benedict Anderson’s book A Life Beyond Boundaries, in which he reflects on nationalism departing from his own cosmopolitan and comparative outlook of life. In the book, he discusses how he came to theorise the nation as an “imagined community,” incidental to symbols and cultural conceptions such as language, memory and otherness that foreground the very production of national imagining, or nationhood. Departing from this understanding of nationhood based on cultural specifications, the exhibition examines the way in which the works question, or negotiate, their own national identity by incorporating, dismantling or rejecting its symbols and connotations.
Grounded on ongoing conversations with the artists, which became the cornerstone in the making and framing of this exhibition, the works in “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging),” existing and newly commissioned, conjure a non-cartographic geography of belonging, which eschews singular national trajectories, instead fostering regionality. While some stem from familiar icons or materials, such as traditional textiles, symbols and techniques, other works draw inspiration from personal or communal concerns of national belonging—a concept that, at present, is further challenged by the pandemic-induced policing of national borders and by military repressions that, at specific locations in Southeast Asia, are gravely mining democracy.
Taking place in the newly established JWD Art Space in Bangkok, “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging)” invites reflection on the framing of national representation, away from its connotation as geopolitical construct to instead switch the emphasis to one’s own placement in history and in society from a regional, non-national perspective. In line with the research-based curatorial focus of “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging),” artist talks, roundtable discussions and webinars will take place during the course of the exhibition.
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