This list presents a slice of the fascinating young Asian contemporary artists creating exciting, diverse and new art as they boldly attempt to understand our current zeitgeist.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial
IMAGES: Courtesy of various
With the presently growing global appetite for Asian art, the spotlight is surely and slowly increasing on Asian artists, and deservedly so. Moreover, in these distinctive times of volatility, identity politics and ever pervasive insularity, Asian contemporary artists are creating their own language and upending the art historical canon through their artistic exploration. This is definitely the case with young artists from China, Japan, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and if not already evident, will become increasingly so in the decade ahead.
This list, in alphabetical order and far from exhaustive, highlights nine young Asian artists to look out for in 2020 based on their work in the past year or so. They epitomise a push towards art that holds its own in the international arena but confidently carves out a language that is solely the artist’s making.
Using the moniker of aaajiao, Chinese artist Xu Wenkai (b. 1984) is part of China’s post-80s post-intranet artists making waves for their digital art exploring the distinctive online space known as the “Chinternet.” aaajiao, who is based in Beijing and Berlin, is reportedly one of the first Chinese artists to use 3D digital graphic as a fundamental aspect of his practice, starting from 2007. This year, the artist had a solo exhibition, titled “a’a’a’jiao: an ID,” at How Art Museum, Shanghai. The exhibition space was partly filled with huge, clear plastic blobs of different forms, each supposedly created from a perfect algorithm, to represent how memories function. Also this year, he was part of the group show “Chinternet Ugly” at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, UK.
Manila-born artist, dancer, and choreographer Eisa Jocson (b. 1986) was announced winner of the 2019 Hugo Boss Asia Art for her works investigating the body politics of dance and performance in the service and entertainment industries in the Philippines. Along with other finalists, her video works, including Super Woman KTV (2019) and Corponomy (2019) are on display at Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai until 5 January, 2020. These works showcase pop song and dance performances inspired by traditional elements, pole-dancing, macho dancing and even practicing an act as the Disney princess Snow White. The artist also exhibited at major performing arts festivals and biennials such as the Asia Triennial of Performing Arts, Melbourne (2017) and the Sharjah Biennial (2019).
Turkish artist İz Öztat (b. 1981) is having a really good 2019; from her first solo show with Pi Artworks, an art gallery based in London and Istanbul, to being one of the five standout artists at this year’s Contemporary Istanbul art fair. Her sculpture at the fair, Whip of Justice (2019), is made from security barriers, similar to those used by the Turkish government to enforce specific bans, and metal hooks drawing parallels to the scales of justice. While Öztat’s work explore heavyweight issues of power and politics, the artist is open about her esoteric inspiration, Zisan (1894–1970), a supposed historical figure, alter ego and channelled spirit. Her work was also shown at the Sharjah Biennial in 2017 and the 2015 Istanbul Biennale, which was curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
Hong Kong artist Leelee Chan (b. 1984) is known for her sculptures “comprised of dumpster detritus and mundane objects” questioning the very value and state of such entities. Her work are featured in the M+ Museum collection and the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. Recent exhibitions include the group show “Artists’ Night” at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary as well as a solo show at Capsule Shanghai, among others. 2020 looks set to be her breakout year with a new project as part of a solo presentation in the Discoveries sector of Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 in March.
Indonesian artist Mulyana (b. 1984) fascinated audiences at Indonesia’s artist-run fair ARTJOG in 2018 with an immersive 9-meter-tall and 12-meter-diameter diamond shaped installation titled Sea Remembers (2018) depicting corals and the underwater world in crochet sculptures. This year, he went on to present a new colourful knitted work in Singapore’s Hermes window display. The artist also made his debut in the United States at Orange County’s largest and oldest contemporary art museum as part of their series of exhibitions titled “OCMAExpand.” His work Mulyana: A Man, A Monster and The Sea (2019) was reportedly a hit, described as “probably the most popular; it’s the show that draws people in.” Closer to home, Mulyana was also on a month long Melbourne residency with Project 11, a giving initiative for arts in Indonesia and Australia, producing a music and art workshop for children as part of Melbourne Fringe.
Indian artist Sahej Rahal (b. 1988) is currently making waves for his work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art exhibition “Feedback Loops” running from 7 December, 2019 through 22 March, 2020 in Melbourne. The group show featuring artists such as Lu Yang and Tianzhuo Chen, explores alternative worlds and speculative fiction, a theme befitting Rahal’s performance based artworks comprising sculptures of a futuristic nature and a sentient AI program aptly titled Antraal (2019), a Sanskrit word meaning interstice or the space between. He has also participated in the Liverpool Biennale (2016), the Setouchi Triennial (2019), and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014).
New York-based Pakistani artist Salman Toor (b. 1983) is known for his small-scale figurative renderings of young, queer South Asian men in intimate spaces. The artist will be having his first museum solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 20 March to 5 July in 2020. This year, Perrotin in New York showed his paintings as part of a group show titled “Them.”
German artist Timur Si-Qin (b. 1984) is no stranger to the art world. He was featured in Frieze in 2012 and has been exhibiting with renowned art gallery Société Berlin since 2011. He stands out for art that confront the relationship between the history of human civilisation and its natural environment through the use of technology, while defying the typical ‘net art’ categorisation. 2019 proved to be a big year for the artist with his participation in the seventh edition of the Asian Art Biennial, organized by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, co-curated by artists Hsu Chia-Wei from Taiwan and Ho Tzu-Nyen from Singapore. His work was also featured in “NOWNESS Experiments: The Mesh,” a moving-image group show at chi K11 art museum in Shanghai this year.
New Zealand-based South Korean artist Yona Lee (b. 1986) is set for a breakout year in 2020 thanks to her forthcoming participation in Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 where she will have a solo presentation in the Discoveries sector. The artist has been quite visible with her larger than life installations of stainless steel pipes in linear structures that are reminiscent of barriers in train stations and airports. One of her biggest works, In Transit (Arrival) (2017) is a permanent site-specific installation commissioned by Te Tuhi, one of New Zealand’s foremost contemporary art spaces.