In Review

Asia Now: a timely spotlight on South Korean art

Demystifying a hemisphere separated both culturally and geographically from the western art world

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While never exactly stable, the past few months have seen relations between North Korea and the rest of the world reach to a new low. Pyongyang has threatened to wage nuclear war with the US, and been threatened with “fire and fury” in return.

An art fair dedicated to the exploration of the visual culture of its beleaguered neighbour, then, comes at a perfect time.

Asia Now returns to Paris for its third year, bringing together work from 10 countries in the region, alongside a programme of exhibitions and events of aimed at expanding awareness and understanding of the South Korean art scene.

The art fair brings together artworks from across South Korea, shown alongside work of artists from elsewhere in Asia and Europe, to showcase the best in contemporary art, with a focus on demystifying the emerging traditions of a hemisphere separated both culturally and geographically from the western art world.

While art fairs take place around the globe, expensive booths compound already prohibitive travel costs, inhibiting the scope of what can be displayed and offering a limited view on an area’s actual cultural output. “It limits the medium of what [galleries] can show, what they can bring,” says Joanne Kim, special projects co-ordinator of Asia Now. “It limits a bit of the show, what’s really going on in each country. So what we focus on, is what’s going on now.”

This year, in collaboration with South Korea’s Busan Biennale curatorial team, Kim has co-ordinated a special programming focussing on Korea’s multifaceted creative scene. The programme doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by the area; among the works on display is a fascinating piece by 51-year-old artist Ham Kyungah. “She has been heavily investing her time and her works on communication with the North Korean people,” says Kim.

In her work, Mona Lisa and others from the North, Ham explores what the iconic image means to the people of the culturally isolated nation, inviting them to smuggle embroidered copies of the painting to her in the South. “It’s so, so interesting,” Kim explains. “When you see this piece, each [Mona Lisa’s] face is very different; the reason is that North Korean people are not allowed to have their portrait. Only the leader can have a portrait… so when people are embroidering them, unconsciously it reflects their self at the same time.”

With an immaculately curated programme, alongside a roster of the most significant galleries and artists in Asia, Asia Now offers a unique platform for not just the most important art of the area, but also an understanding of its unique, and timely, cultural context. Open all weekend, it offers a unique perspective on some of the most vital work being made at the moment.

Visit asianowparis.com for more information

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