Paper Trails: Southeast Asian Works on Paper, curated by Valentine Willie, was on show when we visited Sangkring Art Space. This medium-specific show brought together 30 artists from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Traditionally, works of pencil, charcoal, and ink on paper often take a backseat when it comes to art, with oil on canvas stealing the limelight. These days, the situation has not improved as installation, performance, and video art jostle for visibility while paper is joined by its once-glamorous cousin, oil on canvas, as it lurks in the background, waiting for opportunities to be featured.
Hence, it was a breath of fresh air to see artists presenting works on paper in an exhibition dedicated to discovering the possibilities of an almost-forgotten, but important, art medium (which, by the way, is not just for making drafts or sketches). Paper also holds within itself many possibilities for the artist who is willing to explore beyond pencil or charcoal.
For instance, Vasan Sitthiket’s woodcuts extend his exploration of the rich-poor divide in Thai society. Given its social commentary, these black and white prints also evoke the association between woodcuts and social realism, especially in China.
Heri Dono pushes the boundaries further by using paper itself as the material instead of a surface to make art on. His installation Pinokio Akrobat juxtaposes inverted heads with books, reminding us of the fantastical creatures and scenarios in his other works.
There are also charcoal, pencil and ink works by other artists. Melati Suryodarmo presents a set of charcoal drawings, depicting scenes which almost look like snapshots of her performances, which she is well-known for as an artist.
Escaping the need for figuration, Jiratchaya Pripwai meticulously composes a mystifying and dazzling network of lines with ink on paper, thereby playing with the possibilities that the two dimensional medium holds.
Situated within its picturesque environment, Sangkring Art Space has offered a tranquil and contemplative space to give due attention to a medium which holds great potential for artistic expression but which has quietly retreated to the background among the stars of contemporary art.