In the art world, feminist art is not popular. It is often seen as too political, and its study lies within the purview of academia. Within the last couple of decades, world interest in modern and contemporary art from Asia has grown rapidly, but feminist art from Asian countries has not enjoyed similar visibility.

To instigate change, the first international conference of its kind, “New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia + the World,” will take place November 15-17 on the University of Washington  (UW) campus. Timed to coincide with “Elles: Pompidou,” the Seattle Art Museum’s current featured exhibit, “New Geographies” seeks to strike a truly global perspective in regards to art by women as it focuses attention on modern and contemporary feminist art from the countries of Asia. The conference is free and open to the public, presenting a rare opportunity to partake in an open dialogue that will influence how we view feminist art.

“New Geographies” brings together renowned scholars of such disciplines as anthropology, sociology, comparative literature, women’s studies, art history, Asian studies and Asian art history. They will present art from the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Scholars will be joined by established artists and curators, with all participating in conference panels and roundtables that revolve around six interlocking themes — the city and the country, art markets and art worlds, sites and structures —“to rethink dominant narratives of feminist art,” according to conference organizers, Sonal Khullar, UW Assistant Professor of South Asian art, and Sasha Welland, UW Associate Professor of gender, women and sexuality studies. “New Geographies” is a result of their ongoing collaboration to facilitate greater understanding of feminist art from Asia and to increase its visibility by bridging academia and the art world.

The dominant narrative of feminist art has been defined within the context of the European and American experience, and tells only part of the story. “There are deep, multi-layered histories in China resonating in the visual vocabulary of Chinese feminist art, which arises from a context that is different from what we in the West are used to using as a critical lens when evaluating art,” says Welland. Both Welland and Khullar recall curating experiences where newly discovered feminist works from Asia were admired but characterized as employing a dated visual language. “We in the West tend to have a parochial view of feminist art coming out of Asia, which causes us to dismiss rather than explore the context of the work,” says Khullar, whose studies focus on late-colonial and post-colonial art in India.

The city and the country figure prominently into the ideological and economic shifts that have occurred in many Asian countries — China especially. The city panel session will explore the feminist take on urban culture as it affects change in social and political relationships. And while a continuing exodus to the city erodes the importance of the country as the nation’s foundation, the country panel will focus on Chinese feminist artists, who variously bring their own responses and interpretations to the resulting plight of the country.

“Comrades” by Hung Liu. Photo credit: University of Washington.
“Comrades” by Hung Liu. Photo credit: University of Washington.

The art markets and art worlds panel sessions will explore the effects of the growing economies of the international art market on Asian women artists by asking how they have fared, how they respond to their work being labeled by the market according to particular definitions of feminist aesthetics, and how they draw on and depart from feminist art in the West. The panel also looks at art worlds based in Asian metropolitan centers such as Mumbai and Shanghai, and asks what networks and systems have been created by women artists to circulate their work through those centers.

The structures and sites-themed sessions will feature roundtable discussions moderated by curators (structures) and artists (sites). The “structures” discussions will center on how feminist art addresses the impact on social structures by recent economic developments in Asia as well as gender issues in regards to representation in auction houses, museums, galleries and public art.

Established Asian feminist artists will discuss their experiences during the “sites” session, elaborating on their work as a product of working in alternative modes — such as environmental, collaborative and site-specific — to critique, bypass and finally get noticed by the art world’s institutional hierarchies and traditional art spaces. They will also share how their work has been received in Asia and the world.

What are Welland’s and Khullar’s hopes for conference outcomes? “If there is a legacy, we hope that whatever transpires will impact artistic and curatorial practice; that dialogue — not necessarily consensus — is established; and that the conference provides interference between academic and art world engagement so that new connections are forged.”

Take advantage of this opportunity to discover literally and critically “New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia + the World.” Register for this free conference  and view details on the event web site at http://depts.washington.edu/newgeos.

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