10 of the best contemporary art spaces in South-East Asia

Proudly contributed by Vincent Vichit-Vadakan

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Best bar none … the Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City

In the face of headlines about racial and religious tensions and complex political situations, a traveller today has to wonder: is it better to boycott or to engage, to ignore or to exchange?

To varying degrees, issues of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression have been raised in every country in south-east Asia, yet the region remains a hugely popular destination. Many artists create under censorship or adverse social pressure; all express their differences through art.

The art spaces featured here were not chosen because of any political agenda, and most do not see themselves on a soapbox. However, it is clear that the thread that unites them is their shared need for inclusiveness and their desire to provide a platform for discussion and debate. Speaking passionately about equality in the diverse community that has formed almost by accident around Hin Bus Depot in Penang, managing director Tan Shih Thoe perhaps put it best: “There’s no difference [among artists]. That’s why I think the arts community is so important for Malaysia. They are what we should be.” That is a model shared by every art space on this list.

Hin Bus Depot, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

When Hin Bus Depot opened with renowned Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic’s first solo show in 2014, the owners were as worried about finding dirty syringes at the derelict art deco garage as they were about attracting Penang’s art lovers to what was then a neglected corner of historic George Town. They needn’t have been: 3,000 people turned up to the two-day opening and they’ve never looked back. Hin aims to be the face of the neighbourhood’s gentle gentrification, promoting shows from local and international artists and performers, workshops, weekly art house films on the covered deck, and a busy Sunday market around the central garden space. There is also a vegan cafe, an urban farm and a yoga studio.

98B COLLABoratory, Manila, Philippines

In 2012, when 98B moved into a handsome art deco structure originally called the Perez-Samanillo Building, once Manila’s tallest, the artist-run space didn’t realise that it was spearheading a creative boom. The elegant Escolta shopping district had been in steady decline since the second world war, but the site of the famous Berg’s department store now houses nearly a dozen artistic and creative projects, in an area that counts many more. On a mezzanine floor, 98B holds exhibitions, screenings, discussions and the odd party. Other tenants include a small history museum and an incubator market where artisans, craftspeople and artists from all walks of life showcase their wares.

Ne’-Na, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ne’-Na (pronounced a bit like Nina) offers not one but two spaces in Chiang Mai for artists in residence, including studios and living quarters and plenty of room for exhibitions, performance art and site-specific installations. The space shared with Lanna living arts museum Monfai is closer to town, while Mae Rim is 20km from the centre in a lush, rustic area.

Ne’-Na, or “here it is” in Thai, was born of a collaboration between Thai and Swedish artists in 1998, and fosters exchanges across cultures and media. Filmmakers, choreographers, photographers, composers, children’s authors and many more have all found inspiration in Thailand’s “Rose of the North” over the years.

Manzi, Hanoi, Vietnam

Manzi has had its finger on the pulse of Hanoi’s art scene since 2012. The name is a playful take on the northern Vietnamese pronunciation of man di, meaning wild, barbaric or free. The elegant colonial villa, built in the 1920s, provides a dramatic contrast to a contemporary programme. A fashionable crowd comes for the popular, ever-evolving cafe space downstairs. Those in the know stay for talks on the arts and social issues, hands-on workshops, poetry readings, live music, films, and exhibitions of visual arts and installations throughout the house.

Romcheick Pram, Battambang, Cambodia

What started out in 2011 as four simple huts to give local artists a roof and a space to create has grown to include a gallery that highlights visual artists in sleepy Battambang, considered by many to be the capital of contemporary arts in Cambodia. Today, Romcheick still hosts several artists in residence, and the promotion of their work at home and abroad supports the centre and the artists themselves. In a country where no one’s life is untouched by violence and exploitation, a painter like Hour Seyha has found a platform to tell new and different stories. Romcheick’s next project: a permanent museum of modern art on the same site, is due to open in 2018.

Read full article at theguardian: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/nov/06/southeast-asia-10-best-independent-contemporary-art-spaces

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