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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 10:25 GMT
Asian art show lights up UK
By Vincent Dowd
BBC World Service arts reporter

A painting by Nazlee Laila Mansur
Nazlee Laila Mansur's work shows the vibrant face of modern Asian art
Japan's prestigious Fukuoka Asian Art Museum has teamed up with the industrial town of Blackburn, Lancashire, to give the UK a taste of contemporary Asia's cultural riches.

Fukuoka set up its Asian Art Museum in 1999, and it was immediately acknowledged as one of the world's best collections of contemporary Asian work.

Now it has some 2000 exhibits from 21 nations and a policy of renewing its collection every three years.

For the next three months some of its best exhibits will be in Blackburn - the first time Fukuoka has loaned work to a European venue.

Paul Flintoff, head of Blackburn's Museum and Art Gallery, secured the colourful, brash and sometimes tender paintings, installations and pieces of video art for Blackburn rather than for London's V&A or Tate Modern.

In 2003 Mr Flintoff went on an Arts Council tour of Japanese museums and Fukuoka leapt out immediately as something special, he says.

He knew he wanted to bring some of its collection to Blackburn, a town few outsiders would associate with visual art, and was able to do so after help from a Millennium Commission grant.


The show's slightly flat title Parallel Realities does not hint at the adventurousness and often boisterous humour visitors will encounter in the dozen or so exhibition spaces being used around Blackburn.

Deang Buasan's work Brother
Deang Buasan's work Brother is one of the show's most haunting images

The Blackburn museum team want the striking images to be seen by people who would not normally venture into the town's mid-Victorian museum.

Some of the most interesting pictures are being shown in what used to be a branch of the Halifax building society in the Mall shopping centre.

They include Bangladeshi artist Abdus Salam's evocative parodies of Bangla cinema playing continuously on TV sets, with his pastiches of film posters hanging above.

In the next room hangs a sad work by the Thai artist Deang Buasan - a meditation on the death of his brother as a child.

An image of the artist as a boy gazes down on a lifeless dummy on the floor, seed-pods suspended between them as if in water.

In the next room stands an ambiguous installation by the Cambodian Ly Daravuth mixing black-and-white photographs from that country's Khmer Rouge past with recent headshots of grim-looking teenagers.


For their poster, the show's organisers have taken Thaweesak Srithongdee's Hero, a pumped-up Thai muscleman in red tights with a Tellytubby-like head and fists like a baby's.

Opinions will of course vary as to whether works in the show are fine art or just kitsch.

Thaweesak Srithongdee's Hero
Thaweesak Srithongdee's Hero has become the show's emblem image

But one thing it may prove is that the critical distinctions which seem important elsewhere don't always make sense in modern Asian art.

Take the Indonesian artist Tiarma Dame Ruth Sirait's Synthetic Love. Is it a pastiche of a slightly tacky lingerie shop or, as the artist claims, a statement on the commoditisation of human emotion?

Some 30% of Blackburn's population is South Asian with a large Muslim Gujarati presence.

If this project's to work, it needs to appeal to that community too. Ibrahim Master, until recently Chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, says race relations in the town are generally healthy.

But he welcomes the exhibition if it will let people of all backgrounds get a fuller picture of Asian life and cultures.

Paul Flintoff says part of the exhibition's point is that work from China or Bhutan or Laos may seem just as bewildering to someone born in Ahmedabad as to someone born in Accrington - or of course just as new and exciting.

Parallel Realities runs in Blackburn, Lancashire until 9 April.

NEC hosts Asian traditions event
20 Nov 05 |  West Midlands
Japanese art strengthens UK link
26 Oct 04 |  Berkshire

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