Art in the Diaspora

Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics

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For Singapore Art Week 2024, The Institutum presents, “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics”, an exhibition featuring 100 internationally acclaimed artists from the African and Asian continents and diasporas. This will be the first large-scale exhibition dedicated to the vibrant and interconnected narratives of these demographics to be held in Singapore. The exhibition will provide a rare opportunity for audiences to engage intimately with an array of mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, moving image, textile, installation, and performance. 

Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics

At its core, “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics” celebrates the inherent commonalities between the two cultures, transcending geographical and colour divides by emphasising shared experiences, trials and tribulations, and spiritual practices to name a few. The exhibition is a continuation of work previously initiated by curators and scholars such as Korean historian and critic,Joan Kee, Indian writer and artistic director Natasha Ginwala, as well as Cameroonian art curator and writer Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. In contributing to the ongoing dialogues around seeking affinities among the Global Majority, the exhibition will serve as a further catalyst for cultural understanding and unity, resonating profoundly within Singapore’s multicultural fabric. 

“Olaedo” (Gold) , 2023, 51 × 40 inches, Graphite and Charcoal on Paper.

The painting above is by Afro-Realisim artist, Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu, whose hyper-realistic portraits of Nigerians immediately forge the connection the artist has with her fellow Nigerians, as well as the connection she wants her fellow Nigerians to feel when they view the work. The exhibition also ventures into themes of migration and displacement, language and identities, among others. In a remarkable juxtaposition, Singaporean artist Yanyun Chen and Chiamonwu share in their parallel explorations around perspectives of scars and scarring in their respective cultures.

On the concept of scars and the juxtaposition explored by Chen and Chiamonwu, below is a piece titled Scar Writings by Chen whose approach to this piece and other piece like it was focusing on keloid scars which form as a result of an overgrowth of tissue at the site of a healed skin injury. Where regular scars might lighten or minimise over time, keloids may continue to darken and grow and are a genetic feature, suggesting an ever present reminder of scars that bind a family together.

Scar Writings, 2023, mild steel and red wires, Image courtesy of Joseph Nair and the artist 

Theaster Gates’ 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 honours the humility of everyday objects made by unnamed craftspeople, a notion conceived alongside ceramicists Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada. This is largely shown in the Afro-Ikebana piece shown below. “Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics” explores the dynamic connections and affinities shared between the African and Asian diasporas through the lens of contemporary art. The exhibition also ventures into themes of migration and displacement, language and identities, among others.

Afro-Ikebana, 2019, cast bronze, clay, and tatami mats, Image courtesy of Theo Christelis, the artist and White Cube 

Zoé Whitley is one of the curators for this exhibition and she seeks to use this opportunity to illuminate the threads that weave African and Asian people together beyond linguistic and cultural barriers. Singapore is a suitable home for this exhibition due to its rich tapestry of cultures and identities. This multi-venue showcase features leading artists across the continents, including Zanele Muholi, Sonia Boyce, Torkwase Dyson, Singapore’s very own, Tang Da Wu, as well as The Otolith Group. In their evocative works, Igshaan Adams, Do Ho Suh and Zarina Hashmi each explore notions of home, weaving personal narratives into rich tapestries, ethereal sculptures and maplike drawings.

The exhibition is in collaboration with esteemed partners such as Michelin-starred Restaurant Nouri and boutique ice cream brand Creamier. Chef Ivan Brehm of Nouri and Ghanian Chef Selassie Atadika will present a distinctive “Crossroads of Afro-Asian Flavours” four-hands dinner. Complementing this fusion of cultural tastes, Creamier will unveil a new flavour inspired by the exhibition’s essence during its tenure at Gillman Barracks. The exploration of Afro-Asian affinities is further strengthened by a venue partnership with ShanghART Singapore, and echoed in community partner Art Outreach’s upcoming exhibition, “Our Children by Tang Da Wu”. The exhibition is from the 17th until the 30th of January 2024, admission is free, and it will be open on Mondays until Sundays 11am to 6pm.


Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa. She holds a BA Honours in English and an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Rhodes University. Lelethu currently writes for Art News Africa.

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