Man at His Best

A Degustation Of Liberal Asian Artists: Jahan Loh & Ai Weiwei

Serving their own brand of beautiful justice that you'd appreciate in the gallery of your heart.

BY Wayne Cheong & Franchesca Liauw | Apr 5, 2016 | Arts

Illustration by Carmen Chen

You mean art expounds the truth only to those who can see it? No way! Yes way. Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” still retains its relevance in today’s world filled with rage and unrest. But if there’s one form that continues to hold truth and extends liberation from the clutches of curated television, it is art. Just as much as Scott-Heron’s music revealed the unjust, American musician Sixto Rodriguez’s songs unknowingly served as anti-apartheid anthems in South Africa. If only you could decrypt beyond the subjectivism of what these artists—our selection of Asian musicians, painters and creators—are really saying, we are all gonna be alright in the end. Here's the first of a four-part series, with Jahan Loh and Ai Weiwei. 

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THE POP CULTURE OF
Jahan Loh
Singapore

In a blurring of pop art and fine art, Jahan Loh straddles the line like the Colossus of Rhodes. His work can be described as pop art but that’s not a proper catergorisation for what he does. There are elements, yes—the Ma Ling brand pork luncheon meat pieces carries with it Warhol’s ghost, the Hello Pussy fibreglass sculpture has hints of Koons but nothing remains in stasis.

But it’s not only the genre that is a source of contention; it’s also Loh’s intention with his work. Others brand him as a commercial artist because he doesn’t cotton to the “abstract conceptulisation artist” mould. This isn’t a recent bugbear; back when Loh was enrolled in the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, Loh butted heads with his lecturer over that very subject when Loh chose “his interest in pop cultural icons” over the focus of abstraction that was revered at the time.

Needless to say, Loh has fought, tooth and nail to secure a place in the art world but he won’t be staying still. Like his art, Loh will continue to adapt to his own needs. 

Words by Wayne Cheong.

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THE ARTISTIC ESPIONAGE OF
Ai Weiwei
China

Amid the landscape of a failing economy, of war-torn nations, frightening politicians and millions of refugees, it’s easy to question the role of contemporary art. With the seamless tirade of bourgeoisie gallery openings in which abstract-for-the-sake-of-abstract paintings are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is no wonder that society in general scoffs at the idea of an art scene. So why should the masses be concerned with a practice that often tries to exclude them? And how does a celebrity artist like Ai Weiwei fit into this scene? 

The truth is he doesn’t. Regime critic, freedom seeker, the West’s messiah in its not-so-secret obsession with China, Ai is a far cry from your ordinary gallery filler. Famous for his constant battle with his motherland, he exists to remind people of art’s purpose, and its ability to grasp at the edges of society and transform it into a conduit of awareness. 

With a personality that is impossible to separate from his practice, Ai recently opened a studio on Lesbos, an island destination for migrants hoping to seek refuge in the EU. Having closed his exhibition in Denmark to protest the country’s new bill (that allows authorities to seize valuables from refugees to pay for housing costs), he continues to instate art’s criticality—to ensure that it remains a reflection of our times, a time-travelling vehicle, and a lens for both contemporary and future society.

Words by Franchesca Liauw.

From: Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.