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The Institutum Unveils Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics, a Multifaceted Art Exhibition Exploring Cultural Connections Through Art

Jan 18–30, 2024 | The Institutum, Singapore

The Institutum proudly unveils its most ambitious and visionary exhibition to date, "Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics," set to captivate audiences across six venues in Gillman Barracks from January 18 to 30, 2024. This expansive show delves into the vibrant and interconnected narratives of the African and Asian diasporas through the lens of modern and contemporary art.


Theaster Gates, Afro-Ikebana, 2019; cast bronze, clay and tatami mats. Image courtesy of the artist and White Cube (Theo Christelis).
Theaster Gates, Afro-Ikebana, 2019; cast bronze, clay and tatami mats. Image courtesy of the artist and White Cube (Theo Christelis).

Featuring an ensemble of approximately 100 internationally acclaimed artists representing diverse voices from both the African and Asia continents, "Translations" draws from prestigious private collections across the region. This rare assemblage provides an unprecedented opportunity for art enthusiasts and the public alike to engage intimately with an array of mediums such as paintings, photography, sculptures, moving images, textiles, installations, and performance art.


At its core, "Translations" aims to celebrate the inherent commonalities between the African and Asian diaspora cultures, transcending geographical and colour divides by emphasizing shared experiences, trials and tribulations, spiritual practices, and more.The exhibition also serves as a catalyst for cultural understanding and unity, resonating profoundly within Singapore's multicultural fabric.


"We seek to illuminate the threads that weave us together as people, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers," notes Dr. Zoé Whitley. "Singapore, with its rich tapestry of cultures and identities, serves as an ideal platform to celebrate and amplify these connections."


Kudzanai-Violet Hwami | The wedding of the astronauts 4, 2022 Acrylic and oil on canvas, 180 x 146 cm (70 7/8 x 57 1/2 in)© Kudzanai-Violet Hwami | Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami | The wedding of the astronauts 4, 2022 Acrylic and oil on canvas, 180 x 146 cm (70 7/8 x 57 1/2 in)© Kudzanai-Violet Hwami | Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro


Notable artists in the exhibition include Theaster Gates, whose concept of Afro-Mingei takes aspects of African-American vernacular craft and merges it with Japanese philosopher Soetsu Yangagi’s mingei concept. This concept celebrates and honors the humility of quotidian objects made by unnamed craftspeople, a notion conceived alongside ceramicists Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada. Ogawa Machiko, another luminary in the exhibition, broke new ground as one of the first women to study ceramics at Tokyo University of the Arts. Her distinct approach to ceramics, honed during her intensive study of West African methods of forming and treating clay in Burkina Faso, adds a rich layer to the exhibition.


By alighting on poetics, “Translations” proposes synergies and affinities across the artists featured in the exhibition and beyond, and acts as a continuation to the interconnectedness of Afro-Asia and its peoples. This spotlight on African art and culture is more than an indication of its existence or contribution to society. Instead it facilitates a larger discourse about historical marginalization, re-emergence and re-evaluation of South-South cultural narratives, not unlike the National Gallery Singapore’s recent Tropical exhibition. Curatorially speaking, much is to be credited to pioneering figures like Nigerian curators Bisi Silva and Okwui Enwezor as well as Singaporean curator Tan Boon Hui, in whose memory this show is made. Hou Hanru is another important curator to note for his work on the Asian diaspora and upholding the concept of hybridity in exhibitions with such themes.


Internationally acclaimed curator Dr. Zoé Whitley, director of Chisenhale Gallery, London, leads the curation of "Translations," alongside Singapore-based Clara Che Wei Peh, serving as the assistant curator. Together, they orchestrate an immersive experience, bringing forth the works of eminent artists such as El Anatsui, Theaster Gates, Do Ho Suh, Haegue Yang, Tang Da Wu, Nick Cave, Vibha Galhotra, Vibha Galhotra, Apichatpong Weerasekathul, The Otolith Group, Zarina Hashmi, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Misheck Masamvu, Robert Zhao, Sonia Boyce, Prabhavathi Meppayil, and many others.


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