Concordia hosts international conference on Asian Indigenous Relations in Contemporary Art
After years of meetings in cities including Honolulu, Sydney, and Berlin, Concordia University will host the conference “Asian Indigenous Relations in Contemporary Art” in partnership with the Global Asia/Pacific Art Exchange (GAX) – the first GAX conference to take place in Canada.
GAX was launched in 2012 by Alexandra Chang, Director of Global Arts Programs at New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute, as an inter-institutional network of scholars who meet annually to engage in broader transnational and comparative discourses on Asian diasporic art and visual culture.
Focusing on the Canadian (including the Americas) and Asia-Pacific and Islander contexts, particularly Hawai`i, Samoa, Oceania, Australia, and New Zealand, GAX 2019 brings together over forty international and local artists, curators, and scholars to exchange knowledge on Indigenous and Asian diasporic art and exhibition making.
Capstone project for Concordia University Research Chair Alice Ming Wai Jim
The 2019 edition is co-convened by Chang and Concordia faculty Alice Ming Wai Jim, GAX’s Canadian core research member and this year’s local organizer. “Asian Indigenous Relations in Contemporary Art” is the capstone project of Jim’s Concordia University Research Chair in Ethnocultural Art Histories program and is presented in collaboration with fellow University Research Chairs Heather Igloliorte (Indigenous Art History and Community Engagement) and Jason Edward Lewis (Computation Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary), and the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art.
“This year’s thematic focus is the culmination of numerous discussions during previous GAX meetings on the need to address issues of global Indigeneity and its relations to Asian and Asian diasporic communities in more depth, particularly in the struggle to decolonize art history and the academy in general,” says Jim.
Japanese interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara to give opening keynote lecture
A team of undergraduate, MA, and PhD students of the Department of Art History’s student-driven Ethnocultural Art Histories Research Group (EAHR) and the Indigenous Art Research Group (IARG) have been working together on the conference over the past year.
Undergraduate art history student Autumn Cadorette says that there are four main research axes: “The Ethics of Hospitality, which involves underrepresented relationships and shared histories between Indigenous and Asian or Asian diasporas; Transnational Climate Action, which looks particularly at the islands in the Pacific region since the ocean is the first place that we see this major climate crisis taking place; Queer Asian Indigenous Relationalities, looking at Global LGBTQ+ communities; and Archives, which is of course crucial to research on understudied topics.”
In line with these axes, GAX 2019 welcomes Samoan, Japanese interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara as the opening keynote speaker. Kihara is fa’afafine (“third gender” in Samoan) and will be launching her book Samoan Queer Lives, co-edited by artist and poet Dan Taulapapa McMullin. The second day of the conference will feature morning keynote Asian American scholar Margo Machida and closing keynote Mohawk multimedia artist Skawennati.
Students get to see “behind-the-scenes of curating from beginning to end”
“What I appreciate is the reimagining of place, space, and relationships, in particular, reconceptualizing what ‘Asia’ and ‘the Pacific’ mean,” says MA student Elizabeth Davis, part of the conference organizing team.
This decolonial perspective informs Waterways, a series of summer exhibitions curated by EAHR-IARG that bring together international and local artists, such as Concordia student Jason Sikoak and Postdoctoral Fellow Léuli Eshrāgi.
One of the goals is to create dialogue around bodies of water. MA student Austin Henderson explains, “we may think of the colonial construct of ‘islands in a far sea’ whereas Tongan and Fijian anthropologist Epeli Hau`ofa would describe it as a ‘sea of islands.’”
Importantly, GAX has emphasized student peer and experiential learning throughout the process.
“I get to see the behind-the-scenes of curating from beginning to end and be mentored by MA students,” says undergraduate student Renata Critton-Papp.
Having worked closely with the artists, the student curators will moderate the artist roundtable during the conference. Henderson says, “it’s really nice to see our research put into practice.”
The next stage of the project will involve producing an exhibition catalogue.
See the entire GAX 2019 conference program on their website.