States of the Arts I

2017 Roundup


States of the Arts articles feature four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory. This roundup is a summary of the African and Asian artworks featured in the States of the Arts column in 2017.


In the film Jom, which translates variously as ‘courage’, ‘dignity’, or ‘respect’, director Ababacar Samb Makharam takes the viewer on a trip through the collective memory of Senegal, meeting princes and entertainers along the way. Designer Oumou Sy takes up these threads of history through her own medium. During the opening section of her fashion show at Documenta 12, Kassel, she exhibited her meticulous reproductions of monarchs’ regalia.

For Zimbabwe’s Dambudzo Marechera, English was a ‘form of combat’. He applied his inimitable prose style, subverting and distorting the language, to forthright explorations of colonialism. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a classic novel on the same subject. The book traces the path taken by Okonkwo, a villager in Nigeria who adheres to all the local traditions, but whose life is wrenched apart by colonial forces.

With her photograph Grarem, Amina Menia questions the political purpose of a dull commemorative monument in Algeria. Assia Djebar’s set of stories, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, finds inspiration from a very different visual cue, adapting its characters from Eugène Delacroix’s painting of the same name. On ‘Malukayi’, DR Congo group Mbongwana Star greet us with an ‘aural ambush’, packed with percussion, electronics, and vocal exclamations.

Asia (Central & East)

Two works in our article on Kyrgyzstan use figures on horseback to showcase the nation’s landscape. In A New Silk Road, a photograph by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, a young boy follows the historical trade route. In Kurmanjan Datka, Sadyk Sher-Niyaz’s film, a woman races through mountainous terrain. The lush steppes of Mongolia, similarly, take pride of place in Byambasuren Davaa’s film The Cave of the Yellow Dog.

With her sculpture Cittadella, South Korea’s Haegue Yang transforms several sets of blinds into a striking spectacle. Hanging, half-unfurled, the blinds ‘sift and scatter’ the light around it. The characters in Krys Lee’s Drifting House, the author’s debut short story collection, prove just as prone to movement. The book’s nine tales tackle issues of migration, travel, and diaspora, revealing that ‘home’ does not always mean the roof over your head.

Asia (South & Southeast)

Mehreen Jabbar’s film Ramchand Pakistani follows the fallout after a small boy innocently crosses the Pakistan-India border during a period of heightened tensions, while the young protagonist of Kamila Shamsie’s novel In the City by the Sea witnesses a comparably tense political incident. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s album Shahen-Shah, in contrast, is a ‘jubilant declaration of faith’, its six pieces buoyed by harmonium, tabla, and clapping.

‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’, a song by Eraserheads – a band affectionately nicknamed ‘The Beatles of the Philippines’ – contains a series of fond reminiscences set against a dreamy musical backdrop. The memories of the main character in Duong Thu Huong’s novel Paradise of the Blind, however, are far from sweet. Viewed unfavourably by the authorities of Vietnam, the book was – and still is – banned in the author’s home country.

Asia (West)

The late, great Abbas Kiarostami drives us along the dusty tracks of rural Iran with his film The Wind Will Carry Us, and Marjane Satrapi recounts the tale of her great uncle’s lost tar (a string instrument) in her graphic novel Chicken with Plums. Artworks from neighbouring nation Iraq include Hayv Kahraman’s unsettling painting Migrant 3 and Dunya Mikhail’s poem ‘Tablets’; ‘Water needs no wars / to mix with water / and fill up spaces.’

With Spun of the Limits of My Lonely Waltz, artist Diana al-Hadid, born in Syria, uses her dance moves as the inspiration for an intricate model of a cathedral. The waltz also crops up in Asmahān’s song, ‘Layaly al-Ons fi Vienna’, about the Austrian capital city. Turkey features The Silent House, by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, and ‘Ince Ince’ by Selda Bağcan, a singer who has found unlikely fans in the form of Mos Def and Dr Dre.

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