SPECTROSYNTHESIS II: How an LGBTQ Survey Exhibition Shares the Greatest Message of All

Exhibition view of SPECTROSYNTHESIS II showing Naraphat Sakarthornsap’s Perfect Flower (2016/2019) along the back wall. Image courtesy of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.
Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters: Ming Wong, Bradd, Radha, Tamarra, Josh Serafin and Amadiva. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.
Opening performance “Land of a Thousand Rainbows” by Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.
Installation view at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II of Jes Fan, Visible Woman, 2018, installation, 196 x 152 x 25 cm. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image taken by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.
Installation view at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II of Anne Samat, Conundrum Ka Sorga (To Heaven), 2019, rattan sticks, yarns, washers, rakes, PVC chains, home & fashion accessories, kitchen & garden utensils and stationary items, dimensions variable. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image taken by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.
Jakkai Siributr, Quilt Project (detail), 2019, assembled fabrics from donated garments, beads, sequins and stitching, 230 x 170 cm (3 pieces). Image courtesy of artist, BACC and Sunpride Foundation.
Danh Vō, Archive of Dr. Joseph M. Carrier, 1963-1973, 2010, photogravures, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of artist, BACC and Sunpride Foundation.
Cindy Aquino, Bond, 2013, photograph. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist.
Su Hui-Yu, Ne Quan, 2015, still from video, 8 min 40 sec. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image courtesy of the artist.
Newly-commissioned works by Balbir Krishan. [Right] Before: Section 377 – Don’t Love, Don’t Breathe, Don’t Live, 2019, Collection of Sunpride Foundation. [Left] After: Section 377 – Love Equally, Love Freely, Love Proudly, 2019, Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Images courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.
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THE 2020 SOVEREIGN ASIAN ART PRIZE

An unprecedented LGBTQ survey exhibition in Southeast Asia featuring more than 100 artworks from 15 countries sheds light on the creative history of the LGBTQ community and demonstrates that love and acceptance towards gender diversity is a crucial step towards a better world.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy various

In January 2017, National Geographic published an issue dedicated to investigative studies on gender. They reported that a survey conducted in 2015 comprising one thousand millennials aged between 18 and 34 uncovered that half of them viewed gender as a spectrum. Furthermore the issue highlighted that from a scientific perspective, gender is made up of several factors—chromosomes, anatomy, hormones, psychology, and external culture—each of which held numerous possible variance. In June 2018, Michael Gold writing for The New York Times noted that the vocabulary used to describe this gender spectrum has expanded rapidly; updated most recently in June 2019, the article outlined that now the latest is L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+, the last of which is to include any and all not falling under the other terms. If gender and sexuality is impacted by so many factors, and clearly there are countless possibilities on how gender is expressed, then why does accepting and embracing gender diversity still raise so many eyebrows?

 

Exhibition view of SPECTROSYNTHESIS II showing Naraphat Sakarthornsap’s Perfect Flower (2016/2019) along the back wall. Image courtesy of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.

 

In Bangkok, where one conjures images of Thai massage, cheap alcohol and nightlife lit by kathoey—a Thai term loosely used to refer to transgender, gay and intersex individuals—the largest-ever LGBTQ exhibition in Southeast Asia promoting the creative history of the LGBTQ community demonstrates that love and acceptance towards gender diversity brings for a better world. Initiated by Sunpride Foundation—the brainchild of Hong Kong-based collector Patrick Sun—and helmed by a curatorial team at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) led by Chatvichai Promadhattavedi, the mammoth exhibition drew together more than 100 works by 58 artists hailing from 15 countries. “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II: Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia” took the rich experience it garnered from the first iteration—“SPECTROSYNTHESIS: Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now”—held in 2017 at MoCA, Taipei and raised its ambition.

 

Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters: Ming Wong, Bradd, Radha, Tamarra, Josh Serafin and Amadiva. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.
Opening performance “Land of a Thousand Rainbows” by Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.

 

The packed turnout of its opening reception, which was kicked off by a heart-pumping drag performance from Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters and finishing on a high note with a dazzling rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” arguably proved that this was more than just an exhibition; “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II” brought together the vibrant LGBTQ art community and more from in and around Asia. As champagne classes clinked, bodies swayed and laughter and singing filled the floor, BACC was filled with an air of celebration.

A connecting thread among all the works on view was the sense of connectedness and intimate sharing of personal experiences. By splitting the show into eight overarching themes, Promadhattavedi hoped that the stories could interconnect like pieces of a puzzle and create a space for dialogue. “There’s a story to be told because it’s about your own personality. It’s about human rights diversity,” said Promadhattavedi. “All these social values after all without which society is going to be so much poorer in a way.”

In this way, perhaps more so than other LGBTQ themed exhibitions I’ve visited this year, including the exceptional “Kiss My Genders” at Hayward Gallery in London, “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II” successfully engaged an extremely heart-warming side of the LGBTQ discussions. To approach this exhibition and find its richness, we have to let down our guard a little, and be open to listening to the individual truths of the artists.

 

Installation view at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II of Jes Fan, Visible Woman, 2018, installation, 196 x 152 x 25 cm. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image taken by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.

 

The most exciting aspect of exploring the exhibition was the opportunity to discover artists entirely new to me, to dive deeper into others and further yet, to re-discover artists I’ve long admired in a new light. One of the first works to grab my attention was Jes Fan’s Visible Woman (2018), an installation reminiscent of a plastic modeling kit, which lends itself to question the peculiarities of the gendered body. From the use of masks—such as Sunil Gupta’s The New Pre-Raphaelites #11 (2008)—to nature’s flora and fauna, symbolic references abound throughout the exhibition. In Naraphat Sakarthornsap’s photographic installation Perfect Flower (2016/2019), the central focus is the hibiscus, which blossoms bisexually. 50 photos, each a different hibiscus strain, is lined up on the wall, representing the 50 districts of Bangkok.

 

Installation view at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II of Anne Samat, Conundrum Ka Sorga (To Heaven), 2019, rattan sticks, yarns, washers, rakes, PVC chains, home & fashion accessories, kitchen & garden utensils and stationary items, dimensions variable. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image taken by Denise Tsui for CoBo Social.

 

Like a glorious phoenix-inspired couture dress, complete with Venetian mask and a flowing train in the six colours of the original gay pride flag, Anne Samat’s eye-popping assemblage, Conundrum Ka Sorga (To Heaven) (2019), was a show-stopper making a powerful visual statement on marginalization and paying tribute to forerunners and advocates of the LGBTQ community. Also homage to icons of the LGBTQ community and highlighting aspects of LGBTQ social movements is Jakkai Siributr’s Quilt Project (2019), stitched from clothing donated to the artist from friends.

 

Jakkai Siributr, Quilt Project (detail), 2019, assembled fabrics from donated garments, beads, sequins and stitching, 230 x 170 cm (3 pieces). Image courtesy of artist, BACC and Sunpride Foundation.
Danh Vō, Archive of Dr. Joseph M. Carrier, 1963-1973, 2010, photogravures, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of artist, BACC and Sunpride Foundation.

 

Photographic and video works have a strong presence throughout the exhibition. In the same vein that abstract painting argued for the power of colour to stir emotions within oneself, photographs can have an immediacy that does not require one to scrutinize over it via a well-crafted explanatory text. Photographs have the power of documentation and confrontation. From Danh Vō’s Archive of Dr. Joseph M. Carrier, 1963-1973 (2010), a collection of candid street photos taken by the American anthropologist in Vietnam and Yoppy Pieter’s photographs of students from the now defunct transgender Islamic school in Yogyakarta to Cindy Aquino’s intimate photographs of lesbian friends who endure discrimination in a Catholic society, we are reminded that these are actual lives and real people, not a headline news to be discussed and discarded.

 

Cindy Aquino, Bond, 2013, photograph. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist.
Su Hui-Yu, Ne Quan, 2015, still from video, 8 min 40 sec. Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Stories of tragedy are addressed in several works. Su Hui-Yu’s Ne Quan (2015) is a haunting video inspired by a real-life incident in Taipei in 2001 in which a man conducted sadomasochistic sexual activities with another man that ended in his accidental death during play. In mainstream news, the case was highly sensationalized with the sexuality of the men becoming the target of hungry journalists. But tragedy can end in happiness; as portrayed in Balbir Krishan’s paintings Don’t Love, Don’t Breathe, Don’t Live (2019) and Love Equally, Love Freely, Love Proudly (2019) which respond to the before and after of the de-constitutionalizing of Section 377, a colonial-era penal code that criminalized homosexuality, in India in September 2018. But what moved me the deepest was learning Krishan’s own story of coming out, of facing discrimination from those he deeply trusted, attempting suicide, but ultimately triumphed to find love. The power of love and triumph is also expressed in Arin Rungjang’s large-scale video installation portraying a beautiful transgender woman reclined in a classic pose reminiscent of Titian’s 16th century painting Venus of Urbino, striking a confident poise with unabashed exposure of her private parts.

 

Newly-commissioned works by Balbir Krishan. [Right] Before: Section 377 – Don’t Love, Don’t Breathe, Don’t Live, 2019, Collection of Sunpride Foundation. [Left] After: Section 377 – Love Equally, Love Freely, Love Proudly, 2019, Collection of Sunpride Foundation. Images courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.

 

The quest to encourage people to re-examine how we perceive gender, how we conduct ourselves in respect to it, and our moral judgment appears to be a central driving force in “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II.” The message of love and embracing diversity is fervent. With a gentle smile, Promadhattavedi perhaps said the most important take-away message of all when we sat down for a chat. “We can’t be forgetting the people. Let’s be more accepting, and hopefully the world will gradually get better.”

 

SPECTROSYNTHESIS II: Exposures of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia
23 November 2019 – 1 March 2020
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Bangkok

 

 

 


 

Denise Tsui is the Managing Editor for CoBo Social. A Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee, her research interests are primarily in the study of exhibition models and curatorial practices and art from the Southeast Asia Region. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015.

 

 
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