Vuth Lyno, Sala Samnak, 2020, neon, 118 1⁄8 × 78 3⁄4 × 88 5⁄8". From “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging).”

Vuth Lyno, Sala Samnak, 2020, neon, 118 1⁄8 × 78 3⁄4 × 88 5⁄8". From “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging).”

“A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging)”

What are the stakes of the “regional” now? The group show “A Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging)”continued curator Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani’s engagement with questions of migration, national identities, and regionalities in exhibitions such as “Diaspora: Exit, Exile, Exodus of Southeast Asia” at MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2018 and “Phantoms and Aliens” in Richard Koh’s spaces in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore last year. This presentation brought together artists from countries in the ASEAN bloc, including familiar names from the biennale and festival circuit of the past few years.

Boedi Widjaja, a Singaporean artist of Indonesian heritage known for his engagement with the relationship between sound and politics, displayed A cry a voice and a word that shall echo, 2021. A group of banner-like fabric works displayed like tapestries on the wall, it visualizes the ten principles adopted at the end of the 1955 Bandung Conference. The work hung over Mark Salvatus’s Weakest Link, 2011, a sprawling yet almost invisible sculptural installation of metallic chain links that join together to become an archipelagic form that audiences are invited to shift and manipulate. This pairing—of an ambiguous flag and a mutable boundary as sites from which the nation is imagined—encapsulates the show’s main argument, which was inspired by the 2016 Benedict Anderson memoir that gave the exhibition its name.

Citra Sasmita is known for her feminist retellings of Balinese narratives using a reinterpretation of a traditional figurative style on Kamasan canvas. Haffendi Anuar’s “Site,” 2018–21, consisted of abstract compositions using Malaysian kain pelikat textiles that, in turn, reference vernacular modes of found-material construction adopted by urban poor communities. Norberto Roldan’s works combining prints and embroidery on traditional Filipino textiles alluded to the history of agrarian resistance in the country, while the late Montien Boonma’s sculpture La Métamorphose, 1988, which contains rice sacks and the horns of a buffalo, pointed to the artist’s often overlooked engagement with peasant imaginaries.

Works by Soe Yu Nwe and Vuth Lyno addressed sites of transition at the community and familial scale. Lyno’s Sala Samnak, 2020, a suspended house made of blue neon, evoked traditional village rest houses, which represent forms of local belonging that take precedence over ideas of nationhood. Nwe’s large-scale serpentine ceramic works narrated the history of her family’s migration from China to Burma. She also showed works on paper that she had made this year as a fundraiser for the Civil Disobedience Movement against the military coup in Myanmar. These prominently depict the three-finger salute, a symbol of the movement and the peacock of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina’s video When You Arrive You’ll Regret, 2020, continued the artists’ investigation of islands as sites of epistemic speculation and the conditions of Indonesian migrant laborers in Singapore during the pandemic. It culminates in the ritualistic launch of a raft made of banana trees from Indonesia’s Batam Island on a journey toward the glittering lights of Singapore. This work, like Nwe’s, was a reminder of the lives at stake, of the real human beings behind these artworks hanging in sanitized, temperature-controlled rooms. Tightly curated and accommodating a diversity of voices, “A Life Beyond Boundaries” was nonetheless a little too conceptually safe for our turbulent times. Notably absent were any works directly referencing the ongoing political revolution in Thailand, with its calls for constitutional reform and a new civilian-led government. Questions of regional identity encompass more urgent concerns than the agendas of institutional collections and biennales can admit. I wonder what more risky forms our curatorial inquiries might take—ones that would articulate more keenly our own political positions and stakes amid unfolding crises.