The 21st annual Art Taipei kicked off on Friday with an eclectic concoction of colors, cultures and characters. The four-day art fair extravaganza which is currently taking place at the Taipei World Trade Center (台北世界貿易中心展覽) certainly lived up to its promise of not just appealing to high-rolling buyers, but also to ensuring that the experience of gallery-viewing was a more relatable and enjoyable one for the general public. Artists mingled with art enthusiasts, a variety of languages were spoken and the atmosphere was, largely speaking, lively and devoid of pretentiousness.
There were the usual big names — for instance, Annie Leibovitz’s 1998 portraiture of Yo-yo Ma with a cello hiding his face — but young, up-and-coming artists from all over Asia really held their own ground at Art Taipei this year. Moreover, the collections on display were far from conservative — vibrant colors, flirty motifs and contemporary reinterpretations of historical issues were among the most prominent themes tying the fair together.
A sizeable portion of artists this year hailed from Southeast Asia. Australian-based Filipino artist Miguel Aquilizan — whose headgear made out of taxidermy animals attracted as much attention as his artwork did — was one of these young artists chosen to represent the region.
Despite his chaotic ensemble, Aquilizan was calm and collected as he explained to the Taipei Times the symbolism behind his carefully refashioned Japanese dolls dating back to World War II which he had collected from antique shops around the Philippines. He acknowledged the utter physical and cultural destruction which occurred in his country, but also expressed a need to move on by constantly reinventing new meaning out of past catastrophes.
“I gather objects, research into their past and then create new meaning out of them. When I found the dolls, they looked very melancholic, so I reworked them to make them appear more cheerful,” Aquilizan said.
The result is a fusion of different cultures, which is an inevitable fixture of modern-day life due to historical processes like colonialism and migration. The vibrant colors, rattan weavings and thick feathers, all of which are sewn into the dolls, are distinctly Filipino while the kimonos are obviously Japanese. On a lighter note, the dolls’ impeccable fashion sense are a nod to Aquilizan’s interest in fashion design.
On the other side of the historical pendulum, artist Nobuaki Takekawa’s oil on canvas Cicada Eclosion and I, 1250 Years (2014), provides a critical view of Japanese history over the past centuries. The painting resembles a genealogical chart with generations of offspring sprouting from common ancestors. Earlier generations are cicadas and their descendants are farmers and horsemen, eventually evolving into modern people.
The cicada motif is important since cicadas are meant to symbolize reincarnation in Japanese culture. Nobuaki’s depiction of the Nazi German flag and the Rising Sun flag alongside recent protests against the Shinzo Abe government draws similarities between past and present, suggesting that history repeats itself.
Animal imagery was surprisingly abundant at this year’s fair. Malaysian artist Haffendi Anuar’s Liquid Serpents 4 (The Garden) (2014) was eye-popping in the sense that his vinyl-printed snakes seemed like they would jump out and bite you despite being encased in multiple layers of Plexiglas.