Asia House Arts and Learning Programme for 2017 to focus on ancient and modern subcultures

Asia House Arts and Learning Programme for 2017 to focus on ancient and modern subcultures

18 October 2017

Bita Ghezelayagh, Pen and Rose Squared I, 2015, 25 metal alloy frames, brass, cotton, velvet, silk and ink, 90 x 90 cm. In March 2017, Asia House will exhibit a selection of works by the Italian-born UK-based artist whose area of research has predominantly been the subcultural Iranian feltmakers

By Mariam Neza

As international attention continues to shift onto Asia, even more so post-Brexit and the US elections, it has never been more important to develop a stronger understanding of the cultures that exist in Asia, both currently and historically, as well as those cultures that are slowly but critically becoming extinct.

Hence, the subject of Subcultures, chosen as the year-long theme for Asia House’s Arts and Learning Programme in 2017, is both timely, and one that reflects the importance of recognising and accentuating the relationship between tradition and modernity. It also demonstrates the need to actively guard against the destabilisation and loss of several 1,000-year old cultural identities and languages.

Culture is the distinguishing factor between one group of people and another and can include elements such as art, literature, language, fashion, food, rituals and ceremonies, ideologies and religions, technology and political systems amongst others.

However, it is the subcultures that exist within wider cultures or societies, which can consist of some of the oldest traditions, acting as a carrier of the longest-standing values of the wider culture within which the subculture exists.


Preservation of ancient cultures

The preservation of ancient cultures of the native peoples and tribal cultures of Asian subcultural societies for example through the arts and through learning plays a key role in ensuring the sustainability of biological and cultural diversity.

We will be taking an anthropological view into the lives of the Ainu people as researched by artist Eiko Soga on her trip to Nibutani, Hokkaido to explore Ainu culture, history and oral tradition. Soga will present her findings on the everyday way of life of the Ainu group, which has a population of only 25,000 at a talk at Asia House later in 2017.


Contemporary subcultures

Within the Arts and Learning Programme’s theme of Subcultures, apart from focusing on ancient and historical cultures, we will also be looking at contemporary subcultural groups, art forms and movements that have arisen as a result of modern-day global issues, such as migration, transnationalism, globalisation and homogeny, which have resulted into new counter cultures, such as in the music sphere as well as food, literature and the visual arts in particular.

Karaj Collective will kick off the music programme on Thursday, 26 January. The contemporary Iranian band will present new compositions, improvisation and original fusion music bringing together influences from jazz, blues, Kurdish, Azeri, Afghani and Armenian folk music.

On 1 March 2017, we will host a performance of classical Ottoman art music. For centuries Ottoman society has comprised of diverse religious and ethnic communities co-existing side by side.  These subcultures continued to influence one another in terms of architecture, the arts and, unsurprisingly, the musical structure of the Ottoman Empire. This will be a unique performance with some of London’s best performers of traditional instruments that include Ney, Kanun and the Ud.


Sin cities in Asia

As part of our subcultures theme, our literature programme will be launching a series of talks under the heading, Sin Cities: Vice and Virtues Across Asia’s Urban Landscapes.

Cities and the people who inhabit them, have long captured the minds and imaginations of writers and readers alike from Rana Dasgupta’s fascinating insights in Capital: A Portrait of Twenty – First Century Delhi  to Ziauddin Sardar’s captivating, Mecca: The Sacred City.

Certain cities in Asia have proven to be inexhaustible sources of inspiration for several generations of writers, who have chronicled these multifaceted metropolises through the eyes of everyday people.

Today, as Asia and the rest of the world move closer together, and as many countries have populations that are now more urban than rural for the first time in their history, Asian cities are becoming even more central in the construction of individual and collective subcultural identity formations.

This series of talks will spotlight a selection of cities and use this as a way to discuss these cities and their countries and cultures more broadly. Through looking at the topic of sin (with its flipsides of vice and virtue), we want to challenge people’s perceptions and to raise important and exciting questions. We have invited the freshest, most interesting writers of today to speak about Asian cities. Events will be programmed throughout the spring. These events are sponsored by Cockayne – Grant for the Arts of The London Community Foundation.

As part of the Asia House visual arts programme, we are proud to be exhibiting a selection of works on paper by Paris-based artist and clinician Hanieh Delecroix. Delecroix will also present a talk about her work focusing on the relationship between the mind and the body, especially how the mind of a damaged body is central to her art.

Shades of black and blue predominate in her paintings, particularly intense hues of cobalt, ultramarine, and cerulean, which she usually applies with a palette knife in sweeping strokes, creating abstract forms that look ‘written’.

She favours translucent paper, chosen for its fragility and its symbolic, skin-like quality. “A crack in the paint or a tear in the paper becomes like a scar,” she explains.

She will focus on how culture is learned from infancy and the importance of the relationship and communication between the mother and child in this context and how the legacy of culture is a key factor in helping human societies survive both shifting political and natural environments. Her works will be exhibited at Asia House in January through to February.


Subcultural Iranian feltmakers

Bita Ghezelayagh, The Letter that never Arrived (VII) (carpet cloak), 2013, Woven carpets (front and back), silk embroidery, metal tokens, old pen nibs, 112 x 110 cm

Bita Ghezelayagh, The Letter that never Arrived (VII) (carpet cloak), 2013, Woven carpets (front and back), silk embroidery, metal tokens, old pen nibs, 112 x 110 cm

Further, in March, we are also pleased to be exhibiting a selection of works by Italian-born UK-based artist Bita Ghezelayagh whose area of research has predominantly been the subcultural Iranian feltmakers – who traditionally make clothing, tents and carpets – to create a collection of decorative costumes that combine talismanic symbols, silk-screen printing and embroidery.

For Ghezelayagh, felt embodies qualities such as simplicity, heft-weight and resilience. Feltmaking is one of many traditions that she believes is being lost in contemporary Iran and one that through her practice she aims to preserve. Her work will be on show at Asia House in the Spring of 2017. Stay up to date with our theme of Subcultures and programmes surrounding it by visiting

Mariam Neza is the Arts & Learning Programme Manager and Curator.

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