Brisbane, Australia, January 18, 2019 – In a country notorious for
avoiding criticism of its neighbour nations, no matter how bad their
behaviour, the Queensland Triennale of Contemporary Art in the
Pacific and Asia has shown once again art can be and should be
above official policy.
Not only has the Triennale selected some artists whose work
will remind visitors at the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) that injustices,
persecutions and brutality can be exposed, even subtly, but often at
great risk to the artist in a region often governed by autocracies or
Praised already as the only art show in Australia that matters the 9th three-yearly
exhibition in Brisbane (open at the GOMA until April) offers an assembly of 400-odd works from
thirty countries byeighty artists. It also provides a mosaic of yesterday, today and tomorrow, a
peek into a colonial past deliberately fading from memory and a future taken over by robots.
In parts of the world like Asia being an artist can be painful and risky.
Take Htein Lim a political prisoner for seven years in Burma. In solitary he carved on soap bars,
painted on uniforms, on broken glass, on plastic, on pill packets, on razor blades and cigarette lighters.
He blames the fundamentalist Bhuddhist sects for fomenting the hatred, the killing and the rape of the
Moslem Rohingya people in Burma.
Harit Srikhao’s powerful paintings expose the unfair power structure of Thai society and the
subservient and sexually exploited role of women. He draws black clad men fondling a naked women
and paints white-robed men of power with stupa-like hats not unlike Ku-Klux-Klan members.
Another Thai, Tada Hengsapkul, portrays the negative effect the Thai military had on his home town
of Korat. Symbolically he presents an aquarium with tanks submerged underwater.
Shinho Ohtake posts images of discarded objects, symbolic of the pollution of the planet.
And Bounpaul Phothyz has placed in a corridor of the gallery the half shell of a U.S. cluster bomb
from which vegetable sprout. Like thousands of similar metal-shells it serves thousands of Laotian people
to grow food. Other parts of the same ‘unexploded’ bombs are utilized to make tools and kitchen utensils.
The artist reminds us that between 1965 and 1975 the U.S. military flew 580,000 bombing missions into
Laos making his country the most bombed nation in the world per capita and leaving behind 80 million
unexploded ordinances ( UXOs) cluttering the Laotian environment. The shells are cluster bombs, missile
-shaped cylinders which open in flight releasing small bomblets that scatter all over the country side and
explode on impact or when stepped on. UXOs have been responsible for killing and maiming tens of
thousands of Laotian civilians.
By today these leftovers of war have become integrated in the daily life of Laos – which had the
misfortune that the Ho Chi Minh trail passed through its country during the Vietnam War and the
American military tried, in vain, to bomb the Ho Chi Minh trail into oblivion.
On the same corridor Wuth Lyno has built a pyramid of ‘Spirit Houses,’ tiny popular house-altars
in Cambodia with their miniature figures of sages, monks and holy men. He salvaged these altars from a
residential block in Phnom Penh before the building was demolished.
The variety of the exhibits and its messages prompted the art critic of the Guardian to a rare
tribute for the 9th Triennale. He wrote: ‘It is the only show in Australia that can lay claim to being truly
Lyricism and poetry are side by side on the walls of the Goma,
most of all in the spectacular movement of the Six Winds of the aboriginal Wiradjuri People. Artist
Jonathan Jones painstakingly pinned to the wall hundreds of artificial birds made of bone bodies,
different coloured heads and feather tails, all arranged in a wave of a shape-8 that passes through the
room like winds crossing and twisting in different directions – truly a jewel among the exhibits. Ends.
Uli Schmetzer is the author of six books all available on amazon.com
Queensland Triennale of Contemporary Art in the Pacific Asia