The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art
In the opening sequences of the 9th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) at QAGOMA, Vincent Namatjira’s portraits give a sardonic answer to the question of who we live with and alongside. Each of the three series of paintings depict influential people of Australia: the seven richest in the country; seven recent Prime Ministers; and seven leaders of the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) communities. There is a disconnect between the rich and powerful non-Indigenous of Australia and the tjilpi, senior artists and law-men of APY. The juxtaposition highlights the plurality of lives existing together, but lives that are also worlds apart. The two groups are joined together by the nation state, but the reality is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are separated from an equal Australia by the experience of socio-economic, political and cultural injustices.
Unlike other biennales and triennials, APT is not headed by a star curator but organised collectively by the QAGOMA curatorial and project teams with the help of the executive management, interlocutors and volunteers. In the absence of a singular curatorial statement, the region’s name becomes the interpretative framework. Asia-Pacific is one among innumerable clusterings of nation-states—from the Commonwealth of Nations to the Non-Aligned Movement, from the EU to the AU, ASEAN to BRICS. Whereas some of these groups are formalised by constitutions and committees, the criss-crossing of countries in the Asia-Pacific region is an unofficial grouping loosely held together by regional proximity, and by contradicting political affiliations, inconsistent economic cooperation, and vast cultural differences. What is shared is our contemporary moment, and a prediction that the 21st century marks a tilting of the world-story away from Europe and the United States of America. And so, uncoloured by the hermeneutic preferences of a curator, a visitor is able to create a network of connections across artworks by 80 artists and collectives from 30 countries. In a region so diverse and so irreconcilable, the compelling question to ask is: with whom do we live in the Asia-Pacific?