APT8: Philippines and Vietnam

José Da Silva and Hamish Sawyer at dinner with (l-r) Zoe Butt, Dinh Q Lê, Rich Streitmatter-Tran, and Chuong-Ðài Võ / Image courtesy: José Da Silva

In 2014, Hamish Sawyer travelled to Vietnam and the Philippines with José Da Silva to meet with artists and learn about the context of their artworks for ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’.


With a population of over 18 million, the Philippine capital of Manila is the nexus of the country’s art scene, home to a network of institutional spaces, commercial galleries and an art fair, as well as more experimental and artist-run initiatives. Two exhibitions provided an invaluable introduction to our three-day visit to one of South-East Asia’s biggest cities.

‘What does it all matter, as long as the wounds fit the arrows?’ is the title of an exhibition that considered the legacy of the late artist and educator Roberto Chabet, staged at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP). Chabet was a leading conceptual artist, curator, teacher and mentor to several generations of Filipino artists. The exhibition included work by Yason Banal, whose practice moves between installation, photography, video, performance, text, curating and pedagogy. In addition to this, he also teaches film studies at the University of the Philippines Film Institute. For APT8, Banal is co-curating ‘Filipino Indie’, a survey of independent and experimental filmmaking from the Philippines since 2000, with QAGOMA’s Senior Curator and Head of Australian Cinémathèque, José Da Silva. Work by Banal also features in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila’s permanent exhibition ‘The Philippine Contemporary: To Scale the Past and the Possible’, curated by art critic and scholar Dr Patrick Flores, Professor of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines. Opened in early 2013, the landmark exhibition traces the development of Filipino visual art from the early twentieth century right through to contemporary practitioners.

APT8 ‘Filipino Indie’ co-curator Yason Banal / Image courtesy: José Da Silva

One such contemporary artist is Maria Taniguchi, who had a solo exhibition on display at Silverlens Gallery, a commercial space in the Makati district. Taniguchi is best known for her ongoing series of ‘brick’ paintings, in which she explores the infinite surface variations of a uniform grid pattern. Despite their predetermined composition, the surfaces of these paintings are not uniform or static. Subtle variations become discernible as light reflects the surface and the viewer moves in front of the painting. Taniguchi will exhibit two major paintings from the series in APT8.

APT8 artist Maria Taniguchi at Silverlens Gallery, Manila, October 2014 / Image courtesy: José Da Silva

A highlight of our time in Manila was visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), located on the campus of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. Director Joselina Cruz gave us a tour of the Museum, which was hosting an exhibition of international video art during our time in the country. We also had the privilege of meeting renowned American–Filipino artist Paul Pfeiffer, who was undertaking a residency at MCAD to produce a new body of work, subsequently shown at the gallery in late 2014.

Hamish Sawyer with Joselina Cruz, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila and artist Paul Pfeiffer, October 2014 / Image courtesy: José Da Silva


Vietnam has undergone dramatic economic change since the introduction of market reforms in the late 1980s, while maintaining a one-party socialist political system. Cultural censorship continues to impact artists and their ability to respond to these changes.

Our research in Ho Chi Minh City was greatly assisted by Zoe Butt, Executive Director and Curator of San Art, Vietnam’s most active, independent contemporary art space. Butt was the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at the Queensland Art Gallery from 2001–07, before taking up the role of Director, International Programs at the Long March Project, Beijing. Since 2009, she has led San Art’s dynamic program of exhibitions, residencies, lectures and international programs.

One of the many artists we met during our three-day visit to Ho Chi Minh City was UuDam Tran Nguyen. Tran Nguyen’s videos reflect on contemporary life in Vietnam and the way rural and urban spaces have been transformed by dramatic economic and industrial development. His 2012 work Waltz of the Machine Equestrians has been presented to great acclaim in a number of international exhibitions, including the 2013 Singapore Biennale. For APT8, Tran Nguyen will premiere a new video, The Serpent’s Tail, which will continue his playful exploration of the impact of heavy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City.

On our final evening in Ho Chi Minh City we attended a dinner at the home of APT5 artist Dinh Q Le. Dinh has experienced continued success since APT5 with an edition of his APT work The farmers and the helicopters 2006 being acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a survey exhibition of his work opening at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum in mid 2015. Over a traditional meal cooked by Dinh’s aunts, we enjoyed a lively discussion on the state of contemporary art in Vietnam led by Dinh, Zoe Butt and Rich Streitmatter-Tran, co-curator of APT6’s Mekong Project. This memorable evening was testament to the long-term significance of the APT for artists and curators alike. The relationships that are forged through the project have provided a catalyst for ongoing collaboration and exchange throughout the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT)
is the Gallery’s flagship exhibition focused on the work of Asia, the Pacific and Australia.
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

Exhibition Founding Sponsor: Queensland Government
Exhibition Principal Sponsor: Audi Australia

Glencore Regional Touring Workshops

Wandoan student photographer
20150907: Springsure, Queensland.
Springsure student photographer

Glencore and QAGOMA offered regional Queenslanders the opportunity to participate in the ‘Glencore Regional Touring Workshops’ facilitated by Canberra based artist Sean Davey at regional venues during September to coincide with our exhibition ‘The Photograph and Australia’.

Participants gained an understanding of the basic techniques of digital photography as well as practical experience taking photographs, drawing on their local community and surroundings. View the photographs on the My Space blog and participants are encouraged to continue contributing images after the workshop ended, creating an online archive of images documenting the people and places that make up regional Queensland.

APT8: Malaysia and Indonesia

Hamish Sawyer (centre, left) and José Da Silva (far left) meeting artists at Platform 3, Bandung, Indonesia, October 2014 / Image courtesy: José Da Silva

In 2014, Hamish Sawyer travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia with José Da Silva undertaking research for ‘The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, which opens this November. Here we continue our series on the research and development behind the Gallery’s flagship exhibition series.


Malaysia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in South-East Asia, comprising ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, as well as the Orang Asli (original peoples) and other indigenous ethnic groups located mainly in Peninsular Malaysia and the Sabah and Sarawak states. The complex interactions between these groups, together with the legacy of British colonial rule and the rapid economic development of recent decades, provide fertile ground for artists.

Malaysia’s capital city and economic hub, Kuala Lumpur, is the centre of the country’s contemporary art scene and was the base for our three-day visit. Despite being one of the most economically advanced countries in South-East Asia, opportunities for contemporary artists to exhibit their work are relatively limited. The recent closure of established commercial galleries and the proliferation of art fairs in the region mean that many Malaysian artists have more opportunities to exhibit internationally than in their home country.

One positive development is the emergence of independent spaces, such as Malaysian Artist Intention Experiment (MAIX), a notfor- profit space in the Publika Shopping Mall. Founded by APT6 artist Shooshie Sulaiman, MAIX provides a space for emerging artists to meet, exchange ideas and present their work outside of a commercial or academic context. It’s an encouraging sign for the future health of Malaysian art and essential for the development of the next generation of artists.

One of Australia’s nearest neighbours and the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia’s transition to democracy and its emergence as a regional power over the past two decades has seen an increased interest in its contemporary art scene. During our week-long visit, José and I visited the cities of Jakarta, Bandung and Yogykarta, which are the main centres of Indonesian art practice. In Jakarta, we received a tour of the Akili Museum of Art led by curator Alia Swastika. Located in a traditional Javanesestyle compound on a residential street, the Akili Museum houses a private collection that features works by many of Indonesia’s leading artists, including a stunning mural by APT5 artist Eko Nugroho.

Swastika also gave us a preview of this year’s Yogyakarta Biennale, which will feature artists from Nigeria and West Africa, as well as Indonesia. By focusing on art practices from countries situated on or near the equator, away from the traditional art centres of Europe and North America, the Yogyakarta Biennale has differentiated itself from other survey exhibitions of contemporary art, in much the same way that the APT has for over 20 years.

José and I met with a number of Indonesian artists who exhibited in APT7, including members of the Ruangrupa and Tromarama collectives and Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (aka Hahan), who have enjoyed continued success and are giving back to their local artist communities, providing opportunities for their peers to make and exhibit work, such Hahan’s Ace House Collective in Yogyakarta. The entrepreneurialism of many of these artists reflects both the challenges they face and their determination to make and exhibit contemporary art in this rapidly changing but still very traditional country.