not been processed through the homogenising machinery of the contemporary, and still essentially Western art world, in which spontaneous cultural expression is canned, packaged and duly marketed as carefully circumscribed cultural difference.
Nge Lay, an artist from Myanmar, is one of the first to strike a more authentic note. Her life-size schoolroom, with a schoolmistress and 26 pupils all made of carved and painted wood — each one an individual with distinctive gestures, posture and attitude — is so straightforward it stops us in our tracks with its simple sincerity. The label, naturally, tries to turn the work into the bearer of an ideological message, because of the fallacy mentioned above.
We are accordingly told the installation is “a call for equal and better education in Myanmar for all children, both rural and urban.” But it is not really a call for anything. It is simply an invitation to see and to ponder something: the vocation of art is to reveal, not to preach. It is up to us to draw a conclusion or infer an imperative from what we have seen.
As a general impression what we see are glimpses of the reality of daily life in poorer countries, in the factories, sweatshops, mines and other industries where men and women work for little to support the throwaway consumer affluence of the developed world. Hit Man Gurung, a Nepalese, evokes the pathos of the imported Asian labourers who do all the work in the rich, indulgent and idle Arab Gulf states. Closer to home, there is a memorable suite of photographs of the landscape blighted by mining in Bougainville.
Sometimes there are hints of political protest, but these are most effective when indirect, as with Kiri Dalena’s photographs of Filipino demonstrators from a generation ago, with their placards whited out, hinting at futility but also at the general nature of their discontent. Po Po, another Burmese artist, has photographed a whimsical yet pointed series of interventions in daily life, when he placed VIP cards on public seating, drawing attention to the habits of a people who have lived under dictatorship.
One of the most effective works is a video installation on five screens by Kasmalieva and Djumaliev from Kyrgyzstan, one of the small, ethnically Turkic central Asian republics until recently part of the Russian empire, and for many centuries part of the great Silk Road that ran across the Eurasian continent.
Independent today, Kyrgyzstan is extremely poor and the work, titled A New Silk Road, chronicles the much less glamorous trade in which the Kyrgyz sell the Chinese the scrap metal from dismantling abandoned Soviet in-
(from Polari series, 2014) by Christian Thompson, Australia/UK, left;
Rubber Man (2014) by Khvay Samnang, Cambodia