Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

Freed from the shadow of 9/11, the country’s artists are building on a rich heritage – to international acclaim

In August, Pakistan’s three censor boards cleared Saim Sadiq’s award-winning film Joyland for release. Shot in Lahore, the film is about a young married man from a conservative family who finds work at a dance theatre and falls in love with a trans woman struggling to land her moment on stage. It was the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes and it won the Un Certain Regard prize, receiving a standing ovation nearly10 minutes long.

Even though the film was then subject to various bans in Pakistan, after being accused of pushing an LGTBQ+ agenda and misrepresenting Pakistani culture, it finally appeared in Pakistani cinemas in November, with Malala Yousafzai signing on as executive producer.

Continue reading...
Nalini Malani: ‘Trump and Bolsonaro are totally phallic people – but there are men inclined to feminist thought’

The 76-year-old Indian artist reflects on the sectarian violence and misogyny that has inspired her work, including the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl

Indian artist Nalini Malani had been looking forward to flying to Adelaide to see her first Australian survey open at the Art Gallery of South Australia – but she wasn’t be able to. Just as she was leaving India for the opening of an exhibition in the UK – one of five major international projects she is opening over a five-month period – the Australian High Commission informed her that she had applied for the wrong visa.

“I said, ‘I’m not going for business; I’m going for a cultural purpose. I’m not going for a job or anything’,” the 76-year-old artist says, from her second home in Amsterdam that she shares with her husband, Dutch art historian Johan Pijnappel. “They refused to shift it. They said, ‘Now you have to apply all over again’.”

Sign up for our rundown of must-reads, pop culture and tips for the weekend, every Saturday morning

Continue reading...
‘A crazy story’: why a Chinese vase valued at €2,000 sold for €8m

French auction house tells of build-up to bidding war that led to an expert losing his job and a seller being left ‘traumatised’

In the 41 years of wielding the gavel at his auction house a stone’s throw from the royal chateau at Fontainebleau, Jean-Pierre Osenat has never seen anything like it.

“This is a crazy story,” he said. “Quite extraordinary.”

Continue reading...
‘Ordinary’ Chinese vase valued at €2,000 sells for almost €8m after bidding war

Tianqiuping-style porcelain sells for nearly 4,000 times its estimated value after buyers are convinced it is a rare artefact

An “ordinary” Chinese vase put up for auction in France and valued at €2,000 (£1,745) has sold for almost €8m after a ferocious bidding war among buyers convinced it was a rare 18th-century artefact.

At the sale in Fontainebleau near Paris, auctioneers were astonished as the offers from about 30 mainly Chinese bidders kept on coming. When the hammer fell the vase had been sold for €7.7m – almost 4,000 times its estimated value. With the seller’s fees, the final purchase price was €9.12m.

Continue reading...
China’s censorship reaches far beyond its own borders | Letter

We should never take free speech for granted, especially if it concerns art, writes John Finlay

I read with interest your editorial (The Guardian view on China’s censors: the sense of an (acceptable) ending, 24 August). In 2016, I was about to publish a book on pop art, which had a short section on artists responding to political and social turmoil in the 1960s, and which included an illustration of Jim Dine’s Drag – Johnson and Mao (1967). The etching depicts Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China and the US president Lyndon B Johnson, who sent troops to counter Chinese communist support in the Vietnam war.

Dine’s coloured etching applies cosmetic touches to the lips, cheeks and eyelids of these two supposed (and opposed) “freedom” fighters (and a black heart painted on the chin of Mao), essentially to caricature political propaganda and masculine conviction. The capitalist and communist leaders appear as drag actors whose posturing affects a global audience. The printers of my book – a Chinese company – forced the London publisher to remove the offending illustration and text. In our cosy western world, we should never take free speech for granted, especially if it concerns art.
John Finlay

Continue reading...
The King of Kowloon: my search for the cult graffiti prophet of Hong Kong

For years Tsang Tsou-choi daubed his eccentric demands around Hong Kong, and the authorities raced to cover them up. But as the city’s protest movements bloomed, his words mysteriously reappeared

The secret message only appeared when the wall was drenched with rain. For weeks, I had been scouring Hong Kong for these misshapen Chinese characters, but the way they materialised out of nowhere was a shock. It was an unremarkable yellow-grey stone wall in the middle of Central, Hong Kong’s political and economic heart. The words were only revealed when the wall had been soaked; in this case after a downpour in July 2015, which left the wall darkened and damp. Suddenly it was possible to see spots where the dove-grey paint had flaked off, revealing traces of Chinese calligraphy. The writing, in clumsy, off-balance characters about 20cm high, was instantly recognisable for its lack of grace, elegance or learning.

I can’t remember the first time I saw characters like these. They were everywhere when I was growing up in Hong Kong in the 1970s and 80s, a feature of our city just as much as the bottle-green snub-nosed Star Ferry and the noisy trams. Their author was a fixture of the landscape as well: a filthy, toothless, often shirtless, rubbish collector with mental health issues. He called himself the King of Kowloon. Hopping on his crutches, with plastic bags swinging from the handles, his crablike, bow-legged silhouette was so distinctive that, if people saw him in the distance, they would cross the road to avoid him. As he passed, parents would shield their kids’ eyes from him and mutter, “Chi-sin a!” Crazy! He even became a playground taunt – “You’re the King of Kowloon!” – levelled at the slow kids, the weird ones, the poor ones, the outcasts.

Continue reading...
In defence of New Zealand’s ‘crappiest fountain ever’ | Letter

Ainsley Dawrent responds to an undiplomatic comment about the bucket fountain at Cuba Mall in Wellington

Toby Fisher’s remark that the bucket fountain in Cuba Mall, Wellington, is the “crappiest fountain ever” is uncalled for and, even in jest, wrong (Top British diplomat’s husband pokes fun at New Zealand’s ‘crappiest fountain’, 30 May).

From 1980 to 1981, I was the Cuba Mall manager, working for its merchant association, running marketing and promotions. The bucket fountain was in a sorry state of repair, and one of my happiest achievements was having it repaired and repainted in 1981.

Continue reading...
The family who invented an art style: ‘He was so scared he would break the pen … now the children do it’

Over three generations in India, members of the Jogi family have preserved their culture with unique and detailed ink works, now on display in Melbourne

Sangita Jogi’s illustration Women Partying, a joyful depiction of an all-girl disco nightclub, looks very much like something you might see in Teen Vogue. In reality, it’s on the wall at the National Gallery of Victoria, as part of a new exhibition highlighting new acquisitions from contemporary Indian artists in rural, regional, and Indigenous traditions, some handed down for centuries. What is unique about 19-year-old Sangita is that she works in a style practised only in her family: Jogi art, an energetic drawing style using in black ink on white paper, featuring detailed patterns and large, complex composition. It’s been practised for three generations of the Jogi family – which is to say, it’s startlingly modern.

“What’s distinctive about this family, as opposed to others, is that they haven’t inherited this style,” says Wayne Crothers, senior curator of Asian art at the NGV. “It’s come out of them preserving their narrative traditions or their singing and performing traditions.”

Continue reading...
‘It’s good to be alive’: groundbreaking New Zealand artist brings light and joy to city streets

Sallie Culy, who has Williams Syndrome, is the first artist with an intellectual disability to exhibit in Wellington’s public art Lightbox programme

“It’s good to be alive,” artist Sallie Culy says as she finishes a ham and cheese sandwich at one of the many cafes she visits most days in Wellington. “It really is good to be alive.”

Sallie’s words, like much of how she interacts with the world, are life-affirming. As a person, and as an artist, she celebrates connection, imagination, joy and the daily interactions that make life shimmer. Her approach is a welcome reprieve at a time when the world grapples with tragedy, and the city Sallie loves – Wellington - is still catching its breath after a weeks-long protest that ended with parliament’s grounds burning.

Continue reading...
‘They were transforming their countries’: South Asian architecture after British rule

A MoMA exhibition takes a new look at the modernist structures that defined Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka after independence

Light lands softly on concrete walls in a series of silver gelatin prints by an unknown photographer. These small, souvenir-like snapshots give glimpses into the houses of Sri Lanka’s first female architect, Minette de Silva. Here, there are no architectural drawings or models – those have been lost to time. What we see are the personal artifacts of De Silva’s mentee Anuradha Mathur – documents that have been newly uncovered as part of the exhibition The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985, at the Museum of Modern Art.

De Silva’s work – shown though this unconventional medium from an unconventional source – sheds light on the architect’s regional modernist architecture that has been largely ignored by institutions in the west. It is among many such materials now being brought to light both literally and metaphorically.

Continue reading...
Kicking back at the regime: artists open another front in Myanmar war

With the military increasing its use of informants, rappers and artists must keep their identities secret, even from one another

Early one morning last February, a group of young people gathered on a street corner in Myanmar armed with brushes and buckets of paint. In the faint light of dawn, they quickly completed their task and dispersed.

“I felt excited and nervous. I was scared too, because I didn’t want to get caught,” says Tu Tu, a pseudonym for the group’s organiser.

Continue reading...
Outcry as Hong Kong University memorial to Tiananmen Square victims is removed

Site of the Pillar of Shame at the city’s oldest university is under guard after workmen dismantled statue

Hong Kong’s oldest university has removed a statue mourning those killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and posted guards at the site where it has stood for more than 20 years.

The move prompted criticism of the university and the Hong Kong authorities, with academics and experts saying the removal of the sculpture was an attempt at “rewriting history”.

Continue reading...
Images of India: from courtesans and colonial rule to a child’s-eye view – in pictures

Since its invention in the 1840s, photography has played an integral part in Indian art history. Although it is often said that India is the most photographed country in the world, the history of its representation is more complicated, and more political, than initially meets the eye. Visions of India: From the Colonial to the Contemporary is the first major survey of Indian photography in Australia and will be on show at the Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne until 20 March 2022

Continue reading...
Looted and left in an English garden, the goat goddess can return to India

The statue, once on sale at Sotheby’s, was recovered amid claims it was part of a precious trove of stolen artefacts

For more than 20 years, those who lived in and around the village of Lokhari in Uttar Pradesh, India, have prayed for the return of an important statue of a goddess that was stolen from a local temple. Now those prayers have been answered. The 8th-century goat-headed deity has been discovered thousands of miles away – in an English country garden, covered in moss.

The sculpture will be formally given to the High Commission of India in London. It is a case that shames Sotheby’s, which offered the statue for sale in 1988, a few years before the auctioneer was to face serious allegations of having encouraged looting of ancient Indian religious sites.

Continue reading...
New Zealand’s secondary art market is booming – now artists want a share

Without a resale royalty scheme, struggling artists are missing out on much needed money for their work

This month New Zealand artist Ayesha Green watched in surprise as one of her artworks fetched $48,000 at auction – $29,000 more than she sold it for just a year earlier. The hammer price was sizeable for an artist who describes herself as somewhere between emerging and mid-career, and if the country had a resale royalty scheme for artists in place, Green would have taken home a healthy paycheque to put towards her practice.

But, like all local artists whose work sells at auction, Green gets nothing.

Continue reading...