Through the work of artists from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand, Beyond the Self: Contemporary Portraiture from Asia examines recent directions in contemporary self portraiture in Asia. The various regions of Asia have rich and complex histories of representation to draw on. Accompanying local influences there are broader international conventions that impact on the artists’ work. The use and manipulation of the self image has afforded an avenue for many artists to interrogate their locations and aspirations in recent years. The artists in this exhibition use their objective selves – personal faces and bodies, or those of close family – to speak not only about themselves but also of larger issues and ideas.
Participating artists are interested in re-describing individual and collective viewpoints within their specific historical and cultural landscapes. Interests in redefining the local and questioning the self run parallel to changes in contemporary society and the inexorable shifts in cultures in this age of instantaneous electronic communication and a converging world economy. The contemporary worlds of the artists involve global awareness and mobility along with altered economic and technological possibilities. These redefinitions of the “personalised local” manifest in sophisticated responses to this homogenising moment in history.
The works in the exhibition do not simply mirror the artists’ contemporary worlds. Presenting enquiries that are personally significant, some artists also delve into historical complexity, nationally and internationally. The exhibition presents individually distinct projects that flow into comparable and related themes. Some artists look at different forms of representation exploring transnational histories or modes of contemporary being, while others anchor their positions in the local. Articulations of political and social concerns stand alongside metaphysical expressions of the self within larger cultural settings and adventures into expanded notions of selfhood, explored as part of familial, societal and cultural frameworks.
The artists in Beyond the Self largely operate in spaces of imaginative invention and intervention. Through their personal perspectives and redefinitions of various cultural and historical landscapes the artists attempt to alter the audiences’ customary parameters - probing, pushing and extending imaginations. They offer alternative ways of operating in and imaging our world and suggest a future of undefined possibilities. Writer Homi Bhabha, describing internationalism, suggests that ‘the ... space ‘beyond’ becomes a space of intervention in the here and now’. The artists in this exhibition create work that reflects that intervention into the here and now, to explore beyond the self.