Arts and Culture
How were newly independent Asian nations, institutions and individual actors represented and how did they represent themselves in postwar Europe? Which issues were at stake in these representations? How were presences of Asia received? This panel addresses these questions through a largely unexplored constellation of exhibitions, artists and popular culture presences appeared in European contexts during the crucial years that followed several Asian countries’ independence and the Bandung Conference. The panel papers analyze a range of topics. The first focuses on Asian countries’ first national participations at the Venice Art Biennale, and in particular Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines (1950s-60s) and the display of independently selected artists for a mainly western gaze. The second paper analyzes the production of the television series ‘Sandokan’– a fictional pirate fighting British colonial powers in Malaysia - produced in Italy in 1976, against the backdrop of the display of Asian anti-colonial movements at the Italian Communist Party’s festivals over the previous decade. The same festivals would also host representations of the Việt Cộng, and hence the paper invites a reading of Asia-inspired representations in a dialectic mode. The third paper explores the artistic and intellectual exchange between Czechoslovakia and South Asia through the life of Pakistani artist Shakir Ali (1916-75) who trained in several European contexts before returning to Pakistan and contributing his transnational experience to the Lahore Art Circle. These papers analyze alternative paths of exchanges, away from the usual ‘former Empire-former colony axis’ and, equally important, outside historical diaspora locations. By unearthing such presences, the panel aims to reflect on the ways in which ‘Asia’ might have had an independent voice and crafted her own imagery and materialities for European and domestic consumption and also rethink the temporal framework under consideration as not dominated by orientalism as a key mode of representation in the contexts under analysis. In turn, the question arises as to whether – besides globally circulating tropes around ‘Asia’ – encounters in new and ‘less hegemonic’ sites and locations might have engendered altogether different outcomes out of which novel solidarities and fault-lines would be produced. Overall, the panel offers a more nuanced understanding of the nexus between art, popular culture and decolonization.