[Singapore Biennale '11] The Math
Artistic director of this year’s Singapore Biennale, Matthew Ngui, recently wrote in to the press. Included in his letter was this claim: “Fourty-four per cent of the artists in this year’s biennale were from Asia, of these artists, 74 per cent were South-east Asian.” (Read it here.)
Unlike, say, the Venice Biennale, which features so-called national pavilions, the Singapore version is a themed show – by which I mean that, in the latter case, the nationality of participating artists isn’t fixed. Which of course may give rise to questions of scope and focus, like the extent of local and/or Southeast Asian representation, for instance.
I took a cue from the feminist collective, the Guerrilla Girls, who famously pointed out the skewed numbers in the Metropolitan Museum: even though less than 5% of the artists were female, over 85% of the nude artworks were of females.
And how did they know this ?
They walked in, and counted.
So I decided to start counting too.
And below are the results regarding the nationality of the artists represented in the Singapore Biennale this year. Some notes on methodology: Nationality is necessarily a far more fluid concept that gender – which made for some head-scratching moments – and where there is some overlap, I’ve noted a hyphenated identity for the individual concerned, e.g. Michael Lin, who apparently is Taiwanese-born, but grew up in Japan, or Tiffany Chung, who was born in Vietnam but moved away to the U.S. as a child. Also, quite a few artists on this list were born in one country, but are based in another. Chung, for instance, has returned to Vietnam, and is now based in Saigon; Polish-born Gosia Wlodarczak lives and works in Melbourne; Candice Breitz is South African by birth but calls Berlin home these days. And then there’s the thorny issue of the connection between environment and work: does an artist who works out of say, China, or is Chinese-born, necessarily produce work which reflects Chinese concerns? How far is geography a determinative category when it comes to art? In any case though, the effects of globalization is something I’ve had to ignore here, for the sake of clarity. Artists are listed by their country of birth.
Collectives, such as the Indonesian Ruangrupa, or the Danish group Superflex, count as one. (I assumed that the core members of those groups are mostly Indonesian and Danish, respectively. Again, hardly ideal, I know, but I don’t have all the time in the world.) The Propeller Group, on the other hand, proved slightly more complex: apparently their membership consists of Americans and Vietnamese individuals, so I’ve had to count it as two – it appears twice, under Vietnam and the U.S.
Finally, collaboratives, of which there are two, did NOT count as one entry – unlike collectives. Husband-and-wife team, Shao Yinong and Mu Chen, were counted as two individuals, though helped by the fact that both were Chinese. Couple Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset – though they produce work together as Elmgreen & Dragset – were likewise listed under Denmark (Elmgreen) and Norway (Dragset).
Results are broken down by both country and region. There’s also a separate list for female artists.
Feel free to verify this list against the information on the Singapore Biennale’s official site.
SOUTHEAST ASIA (20)
Cambodia (1): Sopheap Pich
Indonesia (1): Ruangrupa (collective)
Malaysia (2): Roslisham Ismail, Shooshie Sulaiman
Philippines (2): Louie Cordero, Mark Salvatus
Singapore (9): Song-Ming Ang, Genevieve Chua, Koh Nguang How, Michael Lim, Charles Lee, John Low, Tan Pin Pin, Ming Wong, Zai Kuning
Thailand (2): Navin Rawanchaikul, Arin Rungjang
Vietnam (3): Tiffany Chung (Vietnam-US), The Propeller Group (collective with Vietnamese members; Vietnam-U.S.), Danh Vo
EAST & SOUTH ASIA (8)
China (2): Shao Yinong & Mu Chen (work collaboratively)
India (2): Gigi Scaria, Sheela Gowda
Japan (2): Teppei Kaneuji, Tatzu Nishi
South Korea (1): Kyungah Ham
Taiwan (1): Michael Lin (Japan-Taiwan)
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND (4)
Australia (3): Robert Macpherson, Tracey Moffatt, Stuart Ringholt
NZ (1): Dane Mitchell
Bulgaria (1): Nedko Solakov
Denmark (2): Superflex (collective), Elmgreen & Dragset (Elmgreen)
France (1): Liisa Roberts
Germany (3): Michael Buetler, Julian Gothe, Leopold Kessler
Norway (1): Elmgreen & Dragset (Dragset)
Poland (1): Gosia Wlodarczak
Portugal (1): Leonor Antunes
Spain (2): Marcos Corrales, Ruben Ramos Balsa
Switzerland (1): Beat Streuli
U.K. (6): Phil Collins, Martin Creed, Ceal Floyer (Pakistan-U.K.), Simon Fujiwara, Mike Nelson, Charles Sandison
MIDDLE EAST (3)
Iran (1): Tala Madani
Israel (1): Omer Fast
Turkey (1): Gulsun Karamustafa
South Africa (1): Candice Breitz
NORTH AMERICA (10)
Mexico (1): Rafael Lozano-Hammer
U.S.A. (9): Charles LaBelle, Jill Magid, Matt Mullican, The Propeller Group (collective with Vietnamese members; Vietnam-U.S.), Lisi Raskin, Martha Rosler, Taryn Simon, Ryan Trecartin, Charlie White
TOTAL: 65 (The Propeller Group was counted twice.)
Number of female artists: 20. Genevieve Chua (Singapore), Tiffany Chung (Vietnam-US), Ruangrupa (Indonesia), Shooshie Sulaiman (Malaysia), Tan Pin Pin (Singapore), Sheela Gowda (India), Kyungah Ham (S. Korea), Mu Chen (China), Tracey Moffatt (Australia), Leonor Antunes (Portugal), Ceal Floyer (Pakistan-U.K.), Liisa Roberts (France), Gosia Wlodarczak (Poland), Gulsun Karamustafa (Turkey), Tala Madani (Iran), Candice Breitz (S. Africa), Jill Magid (U.S.), Lisi Raskin (U.S.), Martha Rosler (U.S.), Taryn Simon (U.S.)
Country with highest number of participating artists: Singapore (9) and the U.S.A. (9).
Region with highest number of participating artists: Southeast Asia (20), followed closely by Europe (19).
Interesting fact: The English-speaking world – of which I consider Singapore to be a part – was overwhelmingly represented. Artists from the U.S. (9), Singapore (9), the U.K. (6), and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa (5) made up some 29 in total, or 44.6%.
Regions/countries unrepresented: South America (or just anything south of Mexico – this is really eyebrow-raising); Russia; the Caribbean; Central Asia; almost all of Africa (white South African Candice Breitz being the continent’s sole representative).