Asia House arts and culture: looking back and looking forward 20 years

Pictured are recent highlights from the Asia House cultural programme

Pictured are recent highlights from the Asia House cultural programme

Asia House arts and culture: looking back and looking forward 20 years

21 January 2016

By Pamela Kember

The Head of Arts and Learning at Asia House looks ahead to the 2016 arts and cultural programme.

In 1996 a ground-breaking exhibition which opened at New York’s Asia Society became one of the most significant shows of its time in terms of counter-currents in the visual arts emerging from inside Asia.

Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions /Tensions represented the work of more than 50 artists for whom decade-old traditions still used by many remained deeply significant to their practice, whilst they completely engaged with issues that affected modern-day life; these artists tried to grapple with things that filtered down from the past at the same time as they were being present in the here and now.

During that same year, a new and distinct organisation began life here in London, namely Asia House, the Arts and Learning Department of which, offers its visitors the opportunity to experience a vast and diverse range of cultures and arts from across the region, embracing more than 40 countries. Alongside our Business & Policy Department, we have now become the leading centre for expertise on Asia in the UK.

As Asia House celebrates both its 20th anniversary this year as well as 11 years at No 63 New Cavendish Street, our current location, this is a moment not only to take a reflective look back at our achievements but also seek to also cross from tradition to the new as we create our future programmes. So being our anniversary this is a year of celebration awash with a spirit of renewal.

In 2016 visiting artists, performers, designers, musicians and actors will look to experiment across mediums, combining movement, the human voice and new media, to present celebratory events both inside Asia House and at various locations in the city. This will include live bands, video and sound installations and artwork by some of the artists who have shown their art in our premises over the past 20 years.

Many artists being invited to perform and create new and dynamic spectacles for us and they include Lucy Sheen, Daniel York, Yong Min Cho, and Dr Menaka PP Bora, among others.

Our ambition is to ensure that Asia House Arts and Learning Department best serves its partners, artists and visitors by continuing our commitment to being a centre for the exploration of and appreciation of the art and cultures of the region.

This year’s Asia House Film Festival, generously supported by Prudential plc., is stronger than ever as we look forward to Artistic Director Jasper Sharp’s exciting line up, themed around breaking boundaries and crossing borders. Stranger (Zhat) directed by renowned Kazakh film maker Yermek Tursuov will open the Festival at a special gala evening on Monday 22 February at the hip Ham Yard Hotel cinema.

Our Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, currently under the direction of Jemimah Steinfeld, celebrates 10 years this year.

With anniversaries in mind, this year’s literature festival will spotlight change in Asia. For example, it will look at the relevance of Shakespeare in Indian cinema 400 years after the Bard’s death and the significance of the Cultural Revolution in China 50 years after its start. Sitting within a broader literature programme at Asia House, the Festival seeks to represent the most interesting writers and conversations coming out of Asia today, whether they are rooted in the present or new twists on old topics.

Beyond this shining a spotlight on countries and topics that are not always in the media gaze is at the forefront of our 2016 programming. We start our year with events on Myanmar and Sri Lanka and will move closer to the Caucasus later in the year.

In March in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Centre London, we are thrilled to present a special 20th anniversary performance between world renowned Italian cellist and conductor Mario Brunello with Korean choreographer and our former dancer-in-residence Yong Min Cho, who directed Bridging Colours-White.

Later in the year Music Futures + will be a new cutting edge new programme, organised with Talent Unlimited, showcasing young emerging Asian musicians, crossing disciplines with performance and sound culminating in a four-day music festival in September, with other events throughout the year.

During 2016 we will also be working with creative individuals selected to bring about a new era of artistic activities. Some of them will draw upon traditional Asian art forms and motifs through storytelling, rituals, dance, cuisine and imagery found across the region from Turkey to Thailand.

Our anniversary year is also an opportunity for us to enabled the artists involved in our year-long celebrations to look more closely at their own position within the international art world, as much as finding a distinct place from which to strive towards recognition at home and to build upon our educational and exhibitions programme to global audience.

It is also our arts and learning programme’s mission to be able to bridge heritage and contemporary art and certainly throughout our cultural activities for 2016 there will be an emphasis traditions and their renewal within a contemporary context.

Works by New York-based Japanese artist Mieko Meguro, whose practice draws upon centuries-old techniques and zine-style manga publications to explore the human condition, will be shown at Asia House during the summer.

During that time, we will also be hosting our first Art Benefit Auction which will take place on Thursday, 23 June 2016. The event will help support our new annual exhibition fund, help to secure our arts programming and promises to be a star-art filled event under the theme of White Gold.

This year we also look towards more outreach programmes and collaborations with both art and non-art institutions and seek ways to improve our role in the community with both local and regional artists who connect with Asia either through their heritage or their passion for the region and we hope to find new ways to invite more people into Asia House.

I am immensely proud of my team – Jemimah Steinfeld and Mariam Neza – and all my colleagues at Asia House. I look forward to a myriad of enthralling and dynamic ways to put Asia House firmly on the local and international art map.

To find out about the exciting arts & learning events taking place at Asia House this year click here.

Don’t miss the Asia House Film Festival 2016 which kicks off on Monday, 22 February at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho. For more information click here.