Art And Society
Recapping 2023: Indigenous Art, unknown world, and drifting identities
Jan 12, 2024
As the curtain rises on the new year, art magazines and platforms are buzzing with forecasts for the vibrant 2024 art landscape. Each prediction, shaped by the interviewees’ unique background and expertise, invites readers to compare and contrast these insights with their own expectations. Amidst this anticipation, let's not forget to look back on the legacy of the past year – an ever-evolving heritage that, though now part of the annals of history, continues to weave its influence on our current artistic activities.
Indigenous Art, the digital realm, and the virtual world seamlessly intertwined with our daily lives as well as diverse exhibitions and discussions throughout the past year. The pre-2023 pandemic era significantly shaped our cultural mindset, influencing perspectives on society and our understanding of human existence. While that earlier period delved into invisible values and existence with a mix of reverence and fear induced by the pandemic, 2023, though maintaining this contemplative approach, invited a deeper exploration of our fundamental essence. Various artists examined aspects of gender or ethnic identity to uncover deeper layers of the “self” and our collective origins.
This article provides a comprehensive survey of the multifaceted themes from last year, offering valuable insights into the current art landscape. Drawing from eazel's curated platform of exhibitions, this review unfolds across three sections: Indigenous Art; engaging with the unknown world; and drifting identities.
Celebrating the rich diversity of cultural heritages
It is undeniable that Indigenous Art had a profound impact on the 2023 art scene. While some perceived the increased exposure of this artistic focus as abrupt, others saw it as a strategic move by the art industry to embrace marginalized voices. However, the themes from previous exhibitions held both during and after the pandemic prefigured this shift. The concepts within this field include connecting with nature, learning from the environment, and healing the world through non-conventional methods and values, all signaling the time for forces beyond the reach of modern science and capitalism to come into play.
In 2023, the 35th Bienal de São Paulo, titled choreographies of the impossible, embraced historically excluded artists, particularly those of Indigenous descent. It showcased works surrounding the current state of the Amazon, which is home to diverse Indigenous groups grappling with ongoing threats of deforestation and illegal activities. The focus on Indigenous Art also expanded to other biennials, including the Gwangju Biennale (Apr 7 - Jul 9, 2023) and the Liverpool Biennial (Jun 10 - Sep 17, 2023). Both events intricately intertwined Indigenous Art in their programs to evoke the voices of ancestral knowledge. Moreover, major art museums continued to incorporate Indigenous Art into their exhibition calendars. Notably, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York hosted the inaugural museum retrospective of Native American artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Jaune Quick-To-See Smith: Memory Map, Apr 19 - Aug 13, 2023) and Bard College’s Hessel Museum of Art in Annandale-on-Hudson curated an exhibition titled Indian Theater: Native Performance, Art, and Self-Determination since 1969 (Jun 24 - Nov 26, 2023), showcasing, among others, works by Jeffrey Gibson, the host of the forthcoming U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Last year, New York based Garth Greenan Gallery presented two exhibitions by artists with Native American heritage: Cannupa Hanska Luger: Hostile Territory (Jan 19 - Feb 25, 2023) and Esteban Cabeza de Baca: Alma (Jun 8 - Jul 21, 2023). Cannupa Hanska Luger, of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, and European descent, explores colonial narratives, resilience, and innovation in Native communities. In the exhibition, Luger presented five large-scale tipis, infusing the space with dynamic energy and highlighting the connection between Northern Plains technology and broader forms of Indigenous knowledge. Esteban Cabeza de Baca filled the gallery with his latest paintings, seamlessly blending the boundaries between past and present, imagination and reality, and individual and collective experiences. Using the iconic Mexican rag doll as a central theme, the artist connects childhood memories and family history to immigrant societies and past labor movements, which continue to hold significant influence today.
Engaging with the unknown world
Contemporary technology, our new artistic tool
In 2023, a critical reevaluation unfolded regarding how “we” have historically defined ourselves. Although this introspection predated the pandemic, the global crisis intensified the scrutiny of long standing beliefs. Amidst the general interruption mandated by the pandemic, wider reflection led to an awareness of unconscious biases and inflexibility, prompting a realization that alternative existences and perspectives could offer solutions to our challenges, or, at the very least, enable diverse ways of thinking.
In the realm where old dreams materialize, the concept of the multiverse took center stage this past year. This subject was not only discussed in connection with virtual reality and the parallel world, but also indirectly associated with the growing fascination with scientific theories such as quantum mechanics and string theory. Video games, another pivotal topic, were explored by leading museums in the context of alternate realities, aligning with the contemporary trend of embracing “beyond conventional art.”
Centre Pompidou-Metz contributed significantly to this discourse through the exhibition WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age (Jun 10, 2023 - Jan 15, 2024). Curated by Hans Ulrich-Obrist, the exhibition resonates with our modern experience of a parallel world that blurs the boundaries between the real and digital. Collaborating with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul presented Game Society (May 12 - Sep 10, 2023). This unique showcase explored the seamless integration of virtual spaces in our daily lives, unraveling the intricate relationships between society and video games. Works by various artists were displayed in both exhibitions, including Cory Arcangel, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Harun Farocki, Kim Heecheon, Lawrence Lek, and Lu Yang. These shows offered a deep exploration “beyond the physical world” as well as game-related ideas that provide fresh perspectives on understanding contemporary phenomena.
Last year, DE SARTHE Gallery in Hong Kong curated two thought-provoking exhibitions – A/S/L by Wang Jiajia (Mar 18 - Apr 29, 2023), and Caison Wang’s solo showcase Hyperland (May 6 - Jun 24, 2023) – that revolve around the concept of alternative worlds, intertwining the physical, virtual, and spiritual. Wang Jiajia dives into the impact of the digital realm on physical reality by drawing inspiration from early internet culture and video games. His exhibition invites reflection on the evolving dynamics of perception in the virtual age. In a parallel approach, Caison Wang crafts a world that seems to exist within the realms of imagination or the post-contemporary era. This prompts contemplation on the philosophical questions around the relevance of gods in our tech-driven world, exploring the distinctions that set us and heavenly beings apart.
AI also takes center stage in this discourse, propelling us into a futuristic present. The most prevalent ongoing debate revolves around the integration of AI-generated artworks into fine art, sparking inquiries as to whether AI can transcend its utilitarian role to be acknowledged as an artist. These conversations beckon us to look into the true essence and definition of art. At the tail end of 2023, the Museum of Modern Art in New York made a notable addition to its collection by acquiring Unsupervised— Machine Hallucinations — MoMA (2022-2023), an AI-generated artwork created by Refik Anadol, a central figure in the realm of AI-related art. Alongside this acquisition, the Museum of Modern Art expanded its holdings with a new piece by Ian Cheng titled 3FACE (2022). Known for closely intertwining his practice with contemporary technology, including AI, Cheng's 3FACE is a generative artwork that analyzes the blockchain wallet data of its owner to “generate a visual portrait of the forces that compose the owner’s personality.”
A quest to uncover our essence, origins, and the path ahead
As part of the ever-evolving discourses on gender identity, there is a heightened awareness of the importance of using gender pronouns thoughtfully when referring to artists. For instance, the inclusive “they” acknowledges the diverse spectrum of nonbinary identities. These artists are not only navigating their individual gender identities but also delving into marginalized realms spanning social structures around the world and contributing to the reassessment of human identity as a whole.
Ad Minoliti is one such artist who conveys this essence through their works. An Argentinian contemporary artist, Minoliti is recognized for their dynamic and whimsical paintings that center on identity, gender, and nature. Drawing inspiration from philosophy, children's literature, and ecological themes, Minoliti creates visually engaging artworks that challenge societal norms. In their solo exhibition, Geometries of the Forest (Jun 22 - Aug 20, 2023), presented at Peres Projects in Seoul, vibrant and dreamlike paintings refute traditional notions of identity. Infused with inspiration from the intricate networks of forest elements like tree roots and fungi, Minoliti prompts a reconsideration of how we perceive ourselves and others. Beyond the vivid canvases, the exhibition also examines societal attitudes towards children and the importance of traditional plant-based knowledge.
Additionally, artists engaged deeply with their diasporic identity through their creative practice, whether it be rooted in second – or third – generation immigrant heritage or created by encountering different cultures. In 2023, such artworks gained notable attention, especially within marginalized Asian diasporas which had previously been somewhat overlooked by the mainstream art industry.
One such example is Zadie Xa*, a Canadian artist with Korean heritage who joined Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s program last year. Grounded in her personal experiences, Xa intertwines multiple narratives with hybrid and diasporic identities, exploring cultural intersections, power dynamics, and notions of home and belonging. Notably, she held a solo exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, (Zadie Xa: House Gods, Animal Guides and Five Ways 2 Forgiveness, Sep 20, 2022 - Apr 30, 2023) and also opened her very first museum solo show in Korea at Space K in Seoul (Nine Tailed Tall Tales: Trickster, Mongrel, Beast, Jul 13 - Oct 12, 2023). Along with Zadie Xa, emerging artists, including Tammy Nguyen, Gala-Porras Kim, and Aryo Toh Djojo, were prominently featured in discussions about the Asian diaspora. They made a significant impact by exhibiting their work in various leading commercial and academic institutions, and this trend is anticipated to gain further momentum in 2024.
(*Eazel Magazine’s interview with the artist, Zadie Xa on coming home and liminal diasporic identity, was published on Aug 30, 2023.)
Galerie du Monde in Hong Kong showcased a solo exhibition of Canadian-Chinese artist Crystal Liu titled you gave me everything (Apr 26 - Jun 3, 2023). Immersed in the tradition of Chinese landscape painting, Liu presented diverse, quietly lyrical yet powerful artworks at the exhibition. Her artistic exploration digs into the meaning of human existence and relationships within nature, expressing intense emotions. Her work imparts profound lessons about life, love, and hope.