Reinscribing Tradition in a Transnational Art World
Despite the increased border-crossings and hybridities that characterize contemporary art in a globalizing world, there is a pronounced trend among contemporary Asian artists and the art professionals who promote them to deploy and reinscribe selected notions of "tradition" in an effort to carve out a distinct and marketable identity for their work in the transnational art market. While many contemporary Asian artists live and work between two, sometimes three, continents, often residing outside the country of their birth, they often still draw from a distinct repertoire of iconic cultural symbols from their "native" culture as a means of self-definition. Even the decidedly futuristic and technologized world of pop art fusions such as Takashi Murakami’s iconoclastic Superflat and Mariko Mori’s technicolor new-age spiritualism rest on a bedrock of these cultural forms. Such traditions, drawn from language, religion, aesthetics, and even sexual mores and erotica, are invoked to imbue contemporary practice with an aura of authenticity, while the traditions themselves are reconstructed within the transhistorical imagination of the contemporary. How does this complicate the age-old binary of tradition and modernity (or post-modernity) in our discussions of art in the 21st century? What does it reveal about the contemporary moment and the enduring power of what Bert Winther-Tamaki has called "artistic nationalism"? This paper will explore these questions and the various implications of the definition and deployment of so-called traditional cultural practices in contemporary Asian art.