Exhibition in Taiwan: "Beyond Territory'brings the art of different artists across Asia

FreeS ART Space: Beyond Territory. Photo: FreeS Art Space

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Taipei — In the history of human civilisation and international politics, the territory has become one of the most contested issues. Territory represents power, reproduce power, and it also represents the culture and identity of people living on it. The essence of the territory and its association with the concept of sovereignty still plays a vital role in shaping international politics and order.

In the name of territorial sovereignty, people became a victim of war, the state suppresses democratic values, and we witness the worst case of humanitarian crisis and the creation of endless refugees.  Dynamics of territory also includes deterritorialisation, reterritorialisation, and extra territorialisation. However, the process of globalisation often challenges the centrality of territorial sovereignty that continues to define the boundary between states and shapes the relationship between states and between people from two different territories. Globalisation is a process of the cross-border as well as the transnational flow of idea, money, commodities and exchange of culture and movement of people. With the advancement of technology, such interaction and integration beyond territory had made even more possible and deeper.

With the above background of dynamics and the challenges of territory as a concept that continues to shape human history, the exhibition titled "Beyond Territory" brings the art of different artists across Asia, whose life story and art have been significantly impacted by the changing dynamics of the "centrality of the territory".

The exhibition is not only about sharing the story of how the centrality of territory harmed human emotion, how such shattered emotion found new territory to rebuild the same emotions, identity, and a new relationship between the artist and his subject.

Tsai Ping Ju, serve as the curator of the exhibition. He was majoring in metal sculpture and now specialising in Art Theory and Critique. He has been particularly interested in identity issues, and his "Taiwanese identity" is often challenged by the political dispute between Taiwan and China. In the late 1930s, after the Nationalist government of the Republic of China lost its final war against the Communist Party of China, It established its power and government in Taiwan. This island is located separated from the rest of the territory ruled by communist China.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) established its government and sovereignty over people resides within the region of Taiwan. Still, it failed to receive the recognition of being an "independent state" from the international community. Although people under the People's Republic of China (CCP) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) share a similar culture of Confucious and the Chinese language, people in Taiwan had established a separate identity among themselves as "Taiwanese".

Still, unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness about the same with the outside world. When a Taiwanese travelled, people often assume them as "Chinese". Tsai, Ping Ju had faced a similar issue, for him, his Taiwanese identity often emerges as a "bone of contention" when he makes an international trip mostly to small countries where the Communist China influence is paramount, like Nepal. Sometimes he needs to hide his Taiwanese identity "within" the larger Chinese identity, but for him, despite the same Chinese Confucious culture and language, he always identifies themselves as "Taiwanese".

There are seven prominent artists, among seven artists, the war over territory wrought Tenzin Rigdol and Tapas Roy life story and their art. Conflict over territorial sovereignty resulted in the loss of one "country", family and identity and forced themselves to find a new identity in new territory.

Tenzin Rigdol is a Tibetan refugee, born in Nepal and later in 2020, the United States granted political asylum to him and his family. "Exile" as his current political status signifies one of the worst historical moments of Tibet History. His parents and thousand of Tibetan fled Tibet when in 1959, the People's Liberation of Army waged war against Tibet. The war over Tibet as territory of China cost millions of Tibetans life and destroyed thousands of Tibetan monastic institution that is the core of Tibetan culture. Tibetan who sought asylum in India, Nepal, and other parts of the world are the result of Communist China and its constant policies of suppression of human rights in Tibet and what Rigdol called deprivation of "right to space".

The Chinese government recognised Tibet issue as an issue of territorial sovereignty and cannot be compromised. Consequently, Tibetan areas and Tibetans in Tibet autonomous Region constantly bogged with a severe surveillance system and suppression of freedom of religion, cultural practice, and expression.

Tenzing Rigdol engages in painting, sculpture, drawing, and collage, to digital, video-installation, performance art, and site-specific pieces. Tibetan age-old tradition had a strong influence on his paintings. He often captures the ongoing human conflict with a strong presence of political elements in his image. For him, politics is an unavoidable element in his art.  In 2011 his widely reported “Our Land, Our People” involved the covert transportation of 20 tonnes of soil out of Tibet, through Nepal, to Dharamsala. The Tibetan filmmaker Tenzin Tsetan Choklay captured his journey of smuggling the soil while crossing three borders in a documentary film titled "Bringing Tibet Home".

The movie received the Young European Jury Award (Prix du Jury de Junes Européens) at the 27th edition of FIPA (International Festival of Audiovisual Programmes., The documentary captures through Rigdol's story, it depicts thousands of Tibetan's emotion and longing to go back to the country that was taken off from them by the People's Republic of China. Documentary best describes why political elements are central to his works.

Tapas Roy and Tenzin Rigdol share similar life experiences of being born as "refugee" or "in exile" in India. Roy's parents also fled Bangladesh during the Bangladesh war in 1971 and sought asylum in India. Bangladesh war was the war of ethnic cleansing, the war of genocide that not only killed millions and but it also internally displaced millions of people. Social unrest, famine, and political instabilities after war continue to shape his adult life. Often his most precious opportunity to pursue education was interjected by the after-war effect. He absorbed his anger against such brutal human affairs through sounds, visuals, and narratives. He takes his artwork as a critical medium through which he creates dialogues of socio-political chaos, injustice, nasty human emotion. Through arts, he also expresses his anger and protests against those chaos and brutal human affairs.  Roy's expression of his rage or narrative of his art is different from Rigdol for the reason that his works involve a strong satirical gesture. His art involves the political dispensation of injustice and discrimination. One can visit Saatchi Art to see variations of his crafts.

The centrality of territory in nation-building forced Rigdol and Roy's family to flee their own country and seek asylum in another country. However, with the deepening of the globalisation process, that centrality of territory in defining international politics and human interaction diminishes with the concept such as global citizen, the conflict between you and I transformed into us and we. We witnessed closer and more in-depth interaction between human-like never before.

Tsai, Yung-Ching was born in 1979 in Taiwan, and her interaction with the Tibetan community in India reflects, human emotions of love, compassion and empathy that is common between us. She first visited India in 2004 to interview Tibetan then spiritual and political leader, His Holiness the Fourteen Dalai Lama. She narrated, before the interview, she had no idea about Tibet and Tibetan people. The moment that broke her heart was when she saw a group of Tibetan who came from Tibet to seek blessing from the Dalai Lama. The moment these Tibetans saw the Dalai Lama for the first time, and she felt their emotion and wept with them as they could not resist their emotion towards the Dalai Lama. Although she does not have any prior knowledge about Tibet and Tibetan people, she felt the emotion and caught with them.

From 2005, she started learning about Tibetans in exile in India and three years later, she made her first documentary about Tibetan in exile, India titled "Way Home". The documentary deals with various challenges Tibetan faces in India, including job opportunity, identity crisis, and residence permit, and fear of deportation. Her second documentary titled "Boy Tashi", is different from the first one, although the subject is the same. The documentary "Boy Tashi", is a story about the lack of emotional support among Tibetan children in India. The film is about Tibetan children whose mother migrated to the United States for political and economic reasons, and the livelihoods of the families in India remain dependent on remittance from the mother. The film further deals with children's lack of emotional support from parents during crucial adolescent age.  The documentary specialises in various snippets of Children growing phase that is mixed with the emotion of fear, excitement, joy, and responsibilities.

Yung Ching and her relationship with Tibet and Tibetan become deeper after marrying her husband Lhundup Tsering, who was a Tibetan refugee in India. In 2016 after years of battle against the Taiwanese government, she and her husband won the battle for his residence permit and citizenship right like every other foreign category. She continued to remain vocal in raising issues related to stateless people's rights.

Li Kuei Pi is currently working on a project titled "Trans-border". It is a project about "stateless" nationality in Taiwan and the kind of challenges they face, including the preservation of one's identity. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the National Taipei University of Arts, Taiwan in 2017. Li engages with transnational labour mobility, and she tries to engage with all aspects of labour including the end product, the process of creating the object, the kinds of challenges labour faces while making the item. She argues that it is challenging to develop a broader understanding of labour without understanding every factor that contributed to creating the end product. During her graduation, she studied sculpture that had influenced her interest in labour studies. She was fascinated by the object and their beauty and gesture and also the relationship between the creator and the object. In the age of the market economy, we often forget about the creator of the item that we develop an interest in it.

YU, Chih-Wei published and covered various news and articles as a news correspondent in New Delhi. Chih-Wei's interest in India is unique for the reason that India and Taiwan are two different countries in all aspects, including food, culture, landscape, development, and political situation. Taiwan is a small, safe, and very comfortable, and harmonious country with decent economic growth. In contrast, India has the world's second-largest population with different kinds of culture and religion that coexists with different sets of development challenges. For Chih-Wei, India is a unique country with rich in culture and abundant opportunities. Chih-Wei is the third journalist from Taiwan and the first journalist stationed in India for Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Chih-Wei's significant works include the 2012 New Delhi Gang rape, her exclusive interview with Nobel Peace winner Kailesh Satyaethi (2014), Nepal Earth Quake (2015). India demonetisation(2016), Srilanka Easter Bombing (2019). After eight years in India, she developed a close connection and a sense of belonging towards India.

Chih-Wei is also popularly known among her Taiwanese younger generation for promoting Indian culture and food through a Facebook page called 印度神尤遊印度. In the virtual world, through her close bond and relationship with India, she developed a new identity called India Yu(印度尤). The Facebook page has garnered more than 50,000 followers, and it continues to increase. She also co-founded YaoIndia(就是要印度), Taiwan's first information platform focusing on India in 2017.

As India and Taiwan aim to strengthen the bilateral relationship in the wake of China's aggressive behaviour and India, Chih-Wei commented that it is essential to understand the people and their culture. People to people relationship should be the foundation of Taiwan and India the bilateral relationship. Lai Pei-Chung, her professional expertise associated with designing games, but is known for various art exhibitions that present Taiwanese artists. She firmly believes that art is a tool or mechanism that helps us to change our understanding into an experiment that we all lived and sometimes form a culture or identity. Lai Pei-Chung, owing to her love and appreciation of art as an essential medium of expression, organises various programs that help to promote or introduce Taiwanese artists in different international platforms including in South Korea and Japan.

Rajnish Chhanesh's painting stands different from the previous artist. His work mainly focuses on relationships and interactions between humans and nature. With growing concern over climate change and its impact on sustainable development, Rajanesh works become more relevant than ever before. His painting on the interaction between nature and human's destructive behaviour that destroys the entire ecosystem is a harsh truth that needs to change sooner. From his painting, one can see his sensitive cognitive towards imbalance and unparalleled interaction between humans and nature. Like other artists, besides his close connection with human and nature interaction, he also focuses on political chaos of power politics, discrimination based on religion, caste, and race. He is also vocal about the same.

He is based in New Delhi that is the hub of historical monuments of Mughal India. It is not surprising to see that his painting has an intense flavour miniature painting that is one of the critical characteristics of Mughal art that often help to narrate emotions and expression with a more resonant voice.

To conclude, beyond territory is an exhibition about how we as human beings share the same emotion of love, compassion, happiness that is not limited within a boundary or territory, and how the same emotions transform "you" and "I" into "us" and "we". From the subjects that each of them chooses to work and develop a close relationship shows how those in power cannot control human emotion towards each other. The exhibition, beyond the border, is about transnational interaction between different nationalities, culture, identity, history, and humanity. Each artist and their work are impactful in creating a dialogue, discussion, and debate among audiences about the issues related to identity,  political crisis and preservation and protection of nature, and lastly the importance of humanity.