The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

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

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