Semba Art Site Project Vol.01 Conference “Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water: Exploring Asian Coexistence


Translated by Yuto Yabumoto

Bloodflowers, Maung Day
Courtesy of the artists Aura Contemporary Art Foundation

▪Moderator: Daisuke Miyatsu (President, Yokohama College of Art; Director, Mori Art Museum)
▪Special Guest Speaker: Toshiaki Ishikura (Associate Professor, Art Anthropologist, Mythologist, Akita University of Art
▪Yuto Yabumoto (President, AURA Contemporary Art Foundation)
General Chair
Daisuke Suzuki (CEO, Artlogue Co., Ltd.)

【1】Introduction of the speakers

Hello everyone. Thank you very much for joining us today at the Semba Art Site Project Vol.1 Conference "Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water- Exploring Asian Coexistence". My name is Suzuki, the organizer of this project and CEO of "Artlogue Co., Ltd.".
※Reference: Semba Art Site Project
I would like to start the conference right away. Please welcome our moderator, Daisuke Miyatsu, and our speakers, Toshiaki Ishikura and Yuto Yabumoto.

Good evening, everyone. I am Daisuke Miyatsu, your moderator.
The title of today's conference is "Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water - Exploring Asian Coexistence", but to begin with, we have to ask "What are Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water? "What is the meaning of "Coexistence"?
Osaka Semba, where the exhibition is held, is a city of water, surrounded by water on all sides. This exhibition features works by artists from the basin of the Mekong River, the mother river of Asia. Today, we would like to explore the relationship between art and water and delve deeper into art from the perspective of cultural anthropology.
For those of you who have already seen the exhibition, I hope you will be able to picture it in your mind as you listen to the talk. For those of you who haven't seen the exhibition yet, we hope that you will find today's conference very interesting and informative and let us know what other exhibitions you would like to see.

After introducing ourselves, we would like to start with an explanation of "Zomia". Mr. Yabumoto will introduce the artists and their works, and Mr. Ishikura will share his thoughts on the works from the perspective of cultural anthropology and mythology. We would like to conclude with some comments from both of them.

Introduction of Mr. Miyatsu

Now, I and two of the speakers would like to introduce ourselves briefly.
My name is Daisuke Miyatsu, and I will be your moderator today.
28 years ago, when I was 30 years old, I started collecting contemporary art. My collection consists mainly of video works by artists from the Asian region. I would like to talk to you today not only about the artworks but also about the artists who will be exhibiting their works.
First of all, please introduce yourself, Mr. Ishikura, Associate Professor at Akita University of Art, specialising in cultural anthropology and mythology.

  • Miyatsu Daisuke

▪Moderator: Miyatsu Daisuke 
- President, Yokohama University of Art and Design
Researches the relationship between art, the economy, and society. Known as a world-renowned collector of contemporary art. While working for a private company, he collected more than 400 pieces of art works, and his home, which he built in collaboration with an artist, is world-renowned. He is also a professional art custodian and conservator.

Introduction of Mr. Ishikura
My name is Toshiaki Ishikura. I’d like to thank you for inviting me here today.
I specialise in cultural anthropology and mythology, and have previously worked on "mountain gods" in the Sikkim Mountains in the eastern edge of the Himalayas, in Darjeeling, a city in northeastern India, and in Nepal At the same time, I have been conducting folkloric research in the Tohoku region of Japan on the theme of "Comparative Mythology in Eurasia and the Pacific Rim".
※Reference: What is mountain worship (Kotobank)?
In 2006, the Institute of Art Anthropology was established at Tama Art University, where we began to work with various artists, assisting them in their research and production of artworks. In recent years, we have been working with many different people. In 2019, we presented our work "Cosmo Eggs" at the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, together with artist Mr. Motoyuki Shitamichi, composer Mr. Taro Yasuno, architect Mr. Fuminori Nousaku and curator Mr. Hiroyuki Hattori.
※Reference: Institute of Art Anthropology, Tama Art University
※Reference: The 58th International Art Exhibition,Venice Biennale Japan: "Cosmo-Eggs Museo dell'Artizon July15, 2020 (The Japan Foundation)

I am neither an expert on Southeast Asia nor a specialist in contemporary art. However, I am very interested in the Southeast Asian artworks in Mr. Yabumoto's collection and would like to explore them in depth from the perspective of cultural anthropology and mythology. I would also like to discuss with Mr. Miyatsu about his economic point of view and the relationship between contemporary art and the world. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you very much, Mr. Ishikura.
Next, please introduce yourself, Mr. Yabumoto 

  • Toshiaki Ishikura

▪Special guest speaker: Toshiaki Ishikura
- Associate Professor, Akita University of Art.
- Art anthropologist / Mythologist.
Specializing in mythology and religions, he has developed unique activities that connect anthropology and contemporary art, such as collaborative production activities with artists. He is also a researcher at Institut pour la Science Sauvage, Meiji University. At the 58th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition, he presented "Cosmo-Eggs" in collaboration with artist Motoyuki Shitamichi, composer Taro Yasuno, and architect Fuminori Nousaku as representative artists of the Japan Pavilion. He also co-authored "Lexicon Contemporary Anthropology" (Katsumi Okuno, Ibunsha, 2018), "The Language of Animals: Beyond Primordial Violence" (co-authored with Tomoko Konoike, Hatori Press, 2016).

Introduction of Mr. Yabumoto

Good evening everyone, My name is Yuto Yabumoto and I am the president of the AURA Contemporary Art Foundation.
As my main business, I founded and developed a law firm called "One Asia Lawyers", and since graduating from university, I have lived and worked in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. However, I feel that the more I pursue my legal work, the further away from world peace I am, without going into details. Legal work often gives us a glimpse of the ugly side of humanity, but I have come to believe that the ugly and the beautiful are two sides of the same coin, and that I want to convert the money I make in the legal profession into something beautiful. It was through the Sa Sa Art Projects in Cambodia, which will be featured at today's conference that I became immersed in the world of contemporary art.
※Reference: AURA Contemporary Art Foundation
One Asia Lawyers
Kazue Suzuki and Yuto Yabumoto, "Introduction to Cambodian Contemporary Art" Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
The word "Zomia" appears in this exhibition, but actually I only learned about this word from Mr. Ishikura about three months ago. Looking back, I realized that our collection is full of "Zomia" or "animistic" elements. When Artlogue asked us to organize an exhibition of the Foundation's collection, we decided that we wanted to focus on the theme of "Zomia", so we started to read up on the literature. We have also written a "Essay", which we hope you will enjoy reading.
※Reference: Yuto Yabumoto, "Essay: Zomi:Trans-local Migrants on the Water: Osaka, Zomia, Semba Capitalism and Globalization"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

  • Yabumoto Yuto

▪Yabumoto Yuto
- Representative, AURA Contemporary Art Foundation.
- Founder, One Asia Lawyers, and Artport Co., Ltd.
He has lived in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, etc., for more than 10 years, and during that time has been supporting art collectives, curators, artists, etc., in each region with grants and exhibitions. Currently, he has a collection of more than 60 works centered on moving image artworks by Asian artists.

[2] Introduction: What is Zomia?

  • ※Reference:

  • ※Reference:

So let's get right down to the business of the day. First of all, could you explain what the word "Zomia" means, Mr. Ishikura?
Meaning of Zomia
The word "Zomia" is of Tibetan and Burmese origin. In Tibetan and Burmese, people living in the highlands are called "Zomi", but Zomia has a broader meaning, referring to people who have fled to mountainous azirs※1 to survive.
※1 A place where criminals, slaves and others seek refuge and protection from severe violations and reprisals. What is Azir (Kotobank)?
The concept of Zomia was first introduced by the American anthropologist James C. Scott in his 2009 book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia,  which was also the basis of his book "Zomia: A Global History of Denationalization", released in 2013. In the book, he talks about how people can build and live in societies without being integrated into the nation.
※Reference: About James C.Scott (Kotobank)
Scott's research area is the highlands of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Originally, the British anthropologist Edmund Ronald Leach* studied highland Burma. Later, as Scott's research became more widespread, a picture began to emerge that overturned the image of mountain people as being left behind and lagging behind the state: that they had chosen a way of life that did not incorporate them into the state, with flexible control over social conditions and power relations.
※Reference: About Edmund Ronald Leach (Kotobank)
What is also impactful in Scott's book is not only that he defined and delved into the concept of Zomia. He argued that "the primitive peoples have escaped the shackles of the state by choosing their own way of life". For example, they slash and burn, plant root crops and do not cultivate the paddy fields. Other practices include the transmission of important histories orally, without the use of writing. The Zomia way of life resonates with the history of those who escaped from state rule, so-called taxation and military service, such as the maroons in the colonies of the New World, the Roma in Europe, and the Cossacks in Russia. This is what  Scott thought  and it's a very provocative argument.
※Reference: What is Cimarron (Maroon) (Kotobank)
What is Roma (Kotobank)
What is a Cossack (Kotobank)
Recently, a discussion has emerged in Japan in the form of "Watery Zomia" or "Sea Zomia", which applies to Japan's marine port areas. The idea, which I think is related to today's theme, is that Zomia exists not only in the mountains but also around "water" such as the sea and rivers.
I have talked with Mr. Yabumoto before about the need to discover people like Zomia, who cannot be captured within the framework of a nation, and to spread them around the world. These are survival techniques created in their own world, concepts and ways of being that are difficult to capture in a national context, and are represented in art. I think that if we can extract these in our time, we can break away from the current problems of the global economy and develop an art world that is dedicated to delving into the local.
What are the Mekong Basin countries?

  • "Magnificent views along the Mekong River."
    (The Mekong is a 4200km long international river with its source on the Tibetan Plateau. With a population of 1.54 billion people, the Mekong is a blessing in disguise.
    Source: SingaLife editorial team, "A spectacular cruise on the Mekong River for twodays and onenight-World Travelvol. 165"SingaLife,9January2020)

The key point in Mr. Ishikura's talk earlier is the part about "domination of the state" or "not being bound by the framework of the state". The title of today's conference, "Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water", refers to the "Zomi of the Sea" and "Zomi of the River". It can be said that this refers to the Zomia in the Mekong River basin, which we will discuss in this article. 
Could you tell us about the artists and their works in the exhibition?
Ngoc Nau's work

  • Ngoc Nau

  • She dances for desire

For this collection exhibition, we invited 10 artists from the Mekong region who are active in international exhibitions.
Firstly, we would like to introduce you to the Vietnamese artist Ngoc Nau. She is indeed an artist with a mountain Zomia lineage, whose ancestors are the Kinh, an ethnic minority living in the mountains of northern Vietnam. She currently lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City in the south of the country. Her work, “She Dances for Desire”, focuses on the Leng Dong, a religious ritual in Vietnam's Virgin Path that is accompanied by festive music. She Dances for Desire is a work that illustrates the tensions between tradition and innovation in Asia.
※Reference: What is the Kinh tribe
: "Mau Tam Phu(Three Mothers,UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, Beliefs and Aspirations"Báo Ảnh Việt Nam,17January2017)
Ngoc Nau,She Dances for Desire (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Ngoc Nau,She Dances for Desire (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

  • Saigon

  • Saigon

The Foundation also has another work by Ngoc Nau in its collection. This one is called Ninh Binh-Saigon and features Ngoc Nau's great-grandfather. It tells the story of the forced migration from Ninh Binh in the north of Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) during the agrarian reform of the 1950s. As this film shows, the history of migration and refugees is inextricably linked to Zomia.
※Reference: Rui Takahashi, "The Development of Agriculture in North and South Vietnam:Reconsidering the Period of Agricultural Stagnation" (Bulletin of Tokai University Faculty of Political Science and Economics,September30, 2013, Vol.45, p.87-116, Tokai University,Faculty of Political Science and Economics)
Ngoc Nau"Ninh Binh - Saigon"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Ngoc Nau,Ninh Binh - Saigon(Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

[3] What is Asian Coexistence? Sandbars?

Works by Lim Sokchanlina

  • Lim Sokchanlina

  • Letter to the Sea

 Water, the sea, rivers and sandbars will be a very important topic. In the "Essay"we show that "Osaka may have been born from the sea bed”. 

※Reference: Yuto Yabumoto, "Essay: Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water :Osaka, Zomia, Semba Capitalism and Globalization"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

Firstly, from the seabed, Lim Sokchanlina is an artist who was also exhibiting at the Singapore Biennale 2019. His work, "Letter to the Sea", takes place at the border between Cambodia and Thailand, where  he dives under the sea and reads out his  voiceless voice to the spirits of the sea under physical strain.
※Reference: Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step in the Right Direction
"Singapore Biennale 2019" starts. Right Direction Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia (November30, 2019, Bijutsu Techo)
Lim Sokchanlina's LETTER TO THE SEA (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
The work of Mech Choulay & Mech Sereyrath

  • Mech Choulay

  • Mother of River

  • Mech Sereyrath

  • Mother of River

Next is the work of the river, Mech Choulay and Mech Sereyrath. They are sister unit artists. Born in 1999, they are young and promising Cambodian contemporary artists and graduates of the Sa Sa Art Projects, founded by Lim, Samnang and Lyno Vuth

※Reference: Aya Kimura, translated by AURA Art "Lim Sokchanlina - Communicate as it is Fusion of reality and unreality" (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Aya Kimura,translated by AURA Art "Khvay Samnang - Artist of Acting:Turning Art into an Entertainment - through his variety of works" Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Aya Kimura, translated by AURA Art "Vuth Lyno:Ten Years of Supporting Contemporary Art in Cambodia" (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Their work, Mother of River, depicts a red cloth-covered monster wandering through a river. Eventually, the creature devours the mud at the bottom of the river and, like a pregnant woman, spits out a baby in a lump of mud as it comes to life inside her belly. The red cloth, wet with water, evokes blood, which appears to be flowing down the Mekong River or into the Tonle Sap Lake in western Cambodia.
Mech Choulay and Mech Sereyrath,Mother of RiverAura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

Works by Supaparinya Sutthirat

  • Supaparinya Sutthirat

  • My Grandpa’s Route Has Been Forever Blocked

Another river work is by Supaparinya Sutthirat, also known as "Som", a contemporary Thai artist. His work, “My Grandpa's Route Has Been Forever Blocked”, was shown at the Sunshower exhibition in 2017. The work is set in the north of Thailand, with the images flowing around the waterfront. Som's grandfather used to work as a hauler of teak※2, using the Ping River, which used to flow in the northwest of Thailand. In northern Thailand there is a multi-purpose dam, the Bhumibol Dam, which is very busy with tourists and has now blocked the Ping River. In this sense, I feel that this issue can be perceived as a universal social problem, since there is a history of waterway changes in Osaka, where the collection exhibition is held, and also in the Yodo and Yamato Rivers.
※2 Lumber cut from the teak tree. The material is very hard and easy to work.  What is teak (Kotobank)
Sunshower: Contemporary Art in Southeast Asiafrom the 1980s to the Present (Mori Art Museum)
Supaparinya Sutthirat "My Grandpa's Route Has Been Forever Blocked" (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
"Episode 30 Naka Jinbei (1639-1730)" ("100 People Who Made Naniwa Osaka: A Visit in Their Footsteps", Kansai Osaka 21st Century Association) 100 People Who Made Naniwa Osaka: A Visit in Their Footsteps" Japan Foundation for Kansai and Osaka 21st Century)
Works by Maung Day

  • Maung Day

  • Bloodflowers

Last but not least, Maung Day is one of the young Myanmar artists who is attracting a lot of attention. In view of the current situation in Myanmar, we have included one slightly violent work in the exhibition.
He is a poet from a peasant background, who usually expresses the quiet peasant landscape in his work. However, in this film, Bloodflowers, poems such as "pig infection" and "murder of a girl" appear, showing how development is changing the minds of the villagers. The peasant society is a world of connection, in contrast to the unconnected world of the sandbar. The "tethered boat" that appears in this film is a reference to the "bounded world" and suggests the difficulty of leaving and escaping from it. 

Maung Day,Bloodflowers(Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

These are some of the artists and works related to "Zomia" and "Water".
Thank you very much, Mr. Yabumoto. You have introduced us to the exhibiting artists and their works, and I would like to follow up with a few points from me.
Firstly, I would like to talk about Lim Sokchanlina's “Letter to the Sea”. In the past I have visited his studio in Cambodia and heard his story. In the past, in Cambodia, men from poor areas were kidnapped and forced to work illegally and poach fish in places like the Thai-Cambodian sea border. Some of the men, who were not given any rest and were forced to live in small rooms, lost their lives at sea or died of malnutrition and other diseases. Such stories have only recently come to light.
The poem "Letter to the Sea" is a poem written by Lim Sokchanlina hisself in memory of his compatriots who died at sea. The sad reality is that the "state of the nation" has created a distorted form of victimisation.
I also want to talk about Supaparinya Sutthirat's work "My Grandpa's Route Has Been Forever Blocked". When this work was exhibited abroad, she told me that the development of dams and river basins was caused by China's "One Belt, One Road". She said that where Zomia people used to do various activities, huge Chinese capital came and artificially blocked and changed the rivers. She said that this was "almost like a new economic colonisation or imperialism". It seems to me that this is an example of how the notion of the nation and late capitalism are linked together, and how they are encroaching on the ancient and long-established way of life and sphere of life of the Zomia. I think it is made into a work through visual arts expression.
※Reference: What is One Belt, One Road (Kotobank)
"How we see water”
So far we have been introduced to the artists and works related to "Zomia of Water". I’d like to hear Ishikura’s perspective on the Zomia.

Zomia is often talked about from the point of view of "mountains" and "the state", but a very significant development in recent years has been the situation of flood control and water use. Water is very important in Southeast Asia and the question for the state in the future is "how to manage water".
Around the 1980s, the Thai architect Sumet Jumsai published a book entitled ”Naga: cultural origins in Siam and the West Pacific ( Naga, God of Water: Waterfront Space and Culture in Asia, 1992)”.
Jumsai was a disciple of R. Buckminster Fuller, who recommended a pro-water, or water-friendly, civilisation, rather than a "water-using civilisation" of reclaiming rivers and building dams. For example, he devised a method of design in which the structure of a ship and that of a house are combined in such a way that the house floats on the water in the event of a flood.
There have always been people who live in the water, like the Zomia of the water and the Zomia of the sea. In view of this, in the context of the modern transition of civilization, if the state were to manage the Zomia people, the traditions of the past might be lost.
In the past, Zomia and her people tried to cross oceans and rivers in order to get out of the state. In this way, the existence of water has the power to "connect or separate people" and has a very symbolic meaning.
※Reference: Buckminster Fuller Exhibition, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art
Among the works you have just mentioned, I would first like to mention the works of Lim Sokchanlina and those of Supaparinya Sutthirat. I think that their works are a kind of visualisation of what modernity has brought us. Both of them deal with water, and I think that their works make us realise that we have the same problem in Japan.
In Japan, too, there is a history of living in harmony with water. There was a movement to build dams and promote flood control, and a movement for the state to control the borders and to speculate on workers, so that human management and water management were carried out simultaneously. But even today, there are still problems in Asia that are very important in terms of humanity, so-called "slavish" methods that are very much outside the framework of management. This is why I think that people who see the work of Mekong artists feel empathy for them.
And one more work by Ngoc Nau. The Vietnamese seance ritual "Reng Dong" in her work, in which spirits are lowered and danced, is very mysterious. Originally, before Vietnam was colonised, there was a belief in various mother goddesses, such as the belief in the Virgin Mary , partly due to the influence of Christianity and Buddhism. I think that the "ritual of women dancing", which is featured in the video work, is something very new in terms of sensation, as a digitised body movement. It also expresses femininity as a guiding body, which is carrying an old history, and seems to be related to "water culture" in a broad sense, such as the sea and rivers, which have been closely related to Zomia since ancient times.
As for the goddess worship that you mentioned, it is not only in Asia, but also in the West. For example, a goddess is attached to the bow of a ship, and it is a belief in the Virgin Mary and a prayer for safety. In addition, the worship of Mazu has been popular in the coastal areas of China since ancient times. In other words, we can say that there is a great relation between "woman" and "water" from ancient times.
In Ngoc Nau's Ninh Binh - Saigon, the goddess is placed at the bow of a ship.

Source: Ngoc Nau,Ninh Binh - Saigon(Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

  • Saigon

[4] What is the Asian Coexistence? Dragons, Snakes, Sheep, etc

In the story related to "Naga, the god of water" introduced by Mr. Ishikura, actually, there is a snake god called Naga in Cambodia, where Khmer culture is flourishing. Also, in China and East Asia, it is believed that there is a kind of dragon that changed from a snake.
※Reference: What is Khmer and Khmer culture (Kotobank)
As the slide says: "What is a snake, a dragon, a sheep?" and now we would like to approach "coexistence" by reading the animals that appear in the artworks. First of all, Mr. Yabumoto, may I ask you to give us a brief description of the works that use various animals as motifs and the artists who created them?
Works by Souliya Phumivong

  • Souliya Phoumivong

  • Flow Vol.1

Animals are very much present in the work of artists from the Mekong Basin countries. One of these artists is Souliya Phumivong, who is probably the only artist in Laos to make a video work. His work, Flow Vol.1, is a slow and gentle animated film in which a human being is mixed in with a slow moving buffalo. The film depicts the difference in the speed of time between animals and humans and how this hurts the animals. It is also a humorous way of expressing the relationship between people and animals.
Souliya Phumivong, "Flow"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

Works by Samak Kosem

  • Samak Kosem

  • Sheep

Next up is Samak Kosem, a cultural anthropologist and contemporary artist. Although he looks very scary in this picture (laughs), he is a very kind and brotherly person . He is from Pattani in the south of Thailand and is very active in Pattani. Basically, Thailand is a Buddhist country, but he is doing "Queer Studies" which focuses on the Muslim community in the south of Thailand. This is exactly the kind of work that looks at a society that separates countries, religions and sexes.
※Reference: What is Pattani?
"To avoid hurting others with thoughtless words Understanding queer studies' that look at sexual diversity" Waseda Weekly, April 24, 2017)
“Sheep” is the title of this film. Over a period of three months, he photographed the sheep of Pattani and asked himself, for those part of a religion or are in the minority ,"What is a sheep?”. At the end of the video work, there is a scene where the sheep jumps out of the window, and I felt that this is an action in a positive sense, a kind of liberation, a crossing of borders, a refuge, so I placed this work at the end of this collection exhibition.
Samak Kosem "Sheep"(Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

Works by Soe Yu Nwe and Lwin Oo Maung

  • Soe Yu Nwe

  • Life Beyond Boundaries (The Geography of Belonging)

We would also like to share with you a few other beautiful snake works from Myanmar. The snake sculptures of Soe Yu Nwe, one of Myanmar's most promising young artists, are truly beautiful.
※Reference: Maki Itasaka, "A raw tentacle stretching from inner body - Soe Yu Nwe; facing her own inner world"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project
※Reference: Maki Itasaka, translated by AURA Art"A raw tentacle stretching from inner body - Soe Yu Nwe; facing her own inner world"Aura AsiaContemporary Art Project)

  • Lwin Oo Maung

Myanmar also has a fortune telling system for the eight days of the week*, which features eight different animals, including tigers and lions. Myanmar artist Lwin Oo Maung has created and exhibited a very interesting work in which people wear masks resembling these eight animals.
※Reference: Tomoya Shinmachi, "Is Myanmar's compatibility test more about the eight days of the week than blood type?(May4,2021,World Voice: Newsweek Japan
Aura Contemporary Art Foundation"Lwin Oo Maung / Artist Interview - Abstraction of Breathing"Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)
Truong Cong Tung's work

  • Across the Forest

  • Across the Forest

Last but not least, some of our works are not only about animals, but also about insects. There is a recent work in the Foundation's collection called ”Across the Forest”. The Vietnamese artist Truong Cong Tung is one of the artists I am personally very interested in. His four video works are characterized by the depiction of insects flying around, and I think they represent exactly what the Japanese call "Mushi Sending”※3.
※3 A magical event in which rice pests are banished from the village. What is Mushi Sendingi (Kotobank)
Truong Cong Tung,Across the Forest(Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

Khvay Samnang's work

  • Popil

  • Popil

One of the very important works in the exhibition of this collection is that of Khvay Samnang. He is one of the most famous artists in Cambodia. The work ”Popil” features two Khmer dancers wearing masks symbolising dragons, woven from fishing vines. The scene begins in the mountains and gradually changes to rivers, marshes and sandbanks.

Khvay Samnang,Popil (Aura Asia Contemporary Art Project)

  • "Apsara in the wall paintings of Angkor Wat.
    (Apsara is "a celestial maiden who is said to have been born in the Indian mythology "Milk Sea Stirring". The Apsara Dance, which represents Apsara, is one of the most famous classical dances in Cambodia)
    Source: "(Japanese) NyoNyumissue 105, special feature:(1)Tennyo's dance passed down through time and space"NyoNyum,5 March 2020)

"Popil is a Cambodian myth and fable, which is now used as a religious ritual by some Cambodian people. Popil itself represents something like the "cycle of life" or "reincarnation", and in actual religious ceremonies, people dance this dance with candles. It is also said that the candle is the male genitalia and the popil is the female genitalia, and I believe that this work shows the cycle of life based on the sacred sexual act.
These are just a few of the works and artists in which animals feature.
Thank you very much, Mr. Yabumoto. I could understand that each country and region has a different animal to symbolise.
I would like to mention a few words about Samak Kosem, who I mentioned earlier. He is working in the south of Thailand, and Mr. Yabumoto told us about the religion in Thailand. Thailand is the largest Buddhist country and most of the people are Buddhists. There are a small number of Muslims living in the south, some of whom have moved beyond Thailand's borders to the surrounding countries. This seems to be similar to the recent problem of the Rohingya※4 in Myanmar.
※4 A Muslim ethnic minority living mainly in the northwestern part of Rakhine State, on the western coast of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. What is Rohingya (Kotobank)
As for Samak Kosem's Queer Studies, he is concerned about the discrimination of homosexuals among Muslims in the Buddhist country of Thailand. I believe that Samak Kosem is using animals in his work to raise these issues, as discrimination breeds further discrimination.
Image of "Sheep”
Now, Mr. Ishikura. Could you tell us about your works in which animals appear, from the perspective of cultural anthropology and mythology?
I would like to talk about the "sheep" in the works of Samak Kosem. Sheep have long been used as a metaphor in religion. In Christianity, for example, sheep are a frequent motif in paintings, representing devout Christians. It can also be seen as a reference to the nature of the subject in pastoral societies and to the nature of human faith, not only as a Christian but also as a "follower of a monotheistic God".
Samak Kosem also uses sheep to give a very vivid portrayal of the perspective of the alienated in his work. By showing a sheep that is out of the flock or injured, he shows the vulnerability of the sheep as an individual, not as an obedient sheep, but as a sheep that may go astray.
Sheep are not only associated with religious beliefs, but also as livestock. In particular, goats and sheep have been domesticated in Western Asia since around 7,000 BC, making them one of the oldest domestic animals in world history. In order for sheep to be used as livestock by humans, they had to be kept close to human settlements. In addition, when people move from one place to another, the sheep have to obey  to survive, which is closely related to the origin of the state and the way of governance in human society. In this sense, the sheep represent "those who were forced to obey the state". On the other hand, I feel that the image of "pastoralists as border-crossers" has also emerged, as people who escaped the rule of the state and crossed borders to enter the world of nomads.

In the world, many people raise not only sheep but also various other mammals on pasture in mountainous areas, but in Japan there are not so many. The reason for this is thought to be that people are not used to managing livestock. In Japan there was a time when people hunted wild animals through hunting and gathering, but the rearing of livestock was limited to farming, pastoralism, migration and hunting. It is a historical fact that the management of livestock for meat by pastoralists was basically not carried out until the Meiji period.
Also, unlike sheep, other animals such as snakes, insects and dragons cannot be domesticated. Snakes, for example, are wild and are considered to be creatures of a different world to our own. The snake is probably one of the oldest animals in the world that has been used as a symbol for many things, but it also has the image of a spirit related to the earth and water that appears most frequently in South East Asia and East Asia.
It is precisely the word "Naga" that is most closely associated with the snake. In South-East Asian mythology, the Naga appears as an antagonist to the Indian mythological bird called the Garuda, as the god who unites "heaven and water" or "heaven and earth". What was a serpent in Southeast Asia seems to have become a dragon in China, a gigantic spirit or monster who presides over all the heaven, earth and water worlds.

※Reference: What is Garuda
Historically, the Naga existed first, and the dragon was born later. The artists that Mr.Yabumoto introduced to us earlier seem to have a good grasp of animal imagery and paint in a multi-layered way. For example, the snake from the Paleolithic period, the dragon influenced by the great civilisations of China, and the insect seen as an enemy in the context of agriculture. You also depict sheep, which are vulnerable to deviations from piety and obedience, as a matter of human identity.
However, what we have to be careful of is that in Europe, in general, there is a strong vertical positioning of the human being between God and animals. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of artworks featuring animals, but I think that many artists treat them as "humanising animals". However, it seems to me that Southeast Asian artists are characterized by the fact that they treat animals as if they were our neighbours, or even as if they were human beings. It's as if they believe that animals are very close to where we live.
The State of Man and Animals" comparing Europe, America and Asia
As Mr. Ishikura said, Europe and Asia have different ways of treating humans and animals. In particular, I think that the European way of thinking is similar to the "modernization" we have imported. In recent years, Mr. Shinichi Nakazawa, who is also Mr. Ishikura's teacher, held a special exhibition with Ms. Yuko Hasegawa on the theme of "transformation". Overseas, ideas such as "de-anthropocentrism" have emerged, and I believe that the nature of human society is changing.
Now, may I ask if Mr. Ishikura would like to talk about a comparative theory between Europe or other countries and Asia in terms of the nature of animals and spirits?
Transformation: 29 October 2010 Fri -30 January 2011 Sun (Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo)
"For the Transformation exhibition, I worked with contemporary artists illcommonz and others to research a wide range of stories of transformation from around the world to the realm of recent subcultures. "The Western trend of 'de-anthropocentrism' seems to extend animal nature to the human dimension, whereas in Asia and other indigenous societies the line between human and animal is blurred. As a way of overcoming these differences from within, ambitious currents have emerged, such as that of the American thinker Donna J. Haraway, which seek to renew the biblically prescribed relationship between humans and animals and to construct a new universality between them. Haraway seems to believe that animals can be important partners  for human beings.
For example, Haraway believes that owning or training a dog opens up a kind of "contact zone" in which humans and dogs not only share common habits and experiences, but also share internal bacteria and a sense of belonging. In other words, it is not just the domestication of a wild species, but a two-way 'sympoiesis'. Another important theme in Haraway's thought is the idea that even people without families can have companion animals※5 that give them a sense of purpose in life and become irreplaceable partners for each other. In other words, whether in the East or the West, we have never been a single species of human being, but have always lived in harmony with a variety of animals, and our existence is based on relationships with multiple species.
Haraway also has a theory about the near future, such as cyborgs, AI and digital culture. Of course, it is important to compare regions with different histories, such as Europe and Asia, but on the other hand, there is an emerging trend to connect them, to uncover common roots for the old and the new, for monotheistic and non-monotheistic religiosity, and to form a broader context that goes beyond "anthropocentrism". So there is a trend to form a broader context beyond 'anthropocentrism'.
※5 A familiar animal that has lived with us for a long time, positioned like a companion, family member or friend.  What is a companion animal (Kotobank)
※Reference: "
The Cyborg Manifesto" by Donna J. Haraway (artscape)
Cyborg Feminism (Bijutsu Techo)
From this perspective, I think we can see that the worldview of artistic expression embedded in various Asian societies is not a peripheral concern for contemporary artists, but is becoming a contemporaneous theme. It seems to me that contemporary art from Southeast t Asia also contains a worldview that resonates with the themes of contemporary thought. In this sense, the art of Southeast Asia is attracting a lot of attention, and through the artworks we can clearly see that various animals are rooted in people's lives.
For example, in Khvay Samnang's work Popil, the image of a beast, which seems to be an intertwining of various animal images, is represented as a "mask". This is similar to the Japanese 'Shishi Odori', an ancient form of spirit worship, but also a very contemporary theme, in which multiple animal species are intertwined and manifested in human form.

※Reference: What is the Shishi odori
Shishi Odori (Hanamaki Tourism Association official website)

  • Popil

The characteristic dance of the two dragons in Popil has a strong affinity with Butoh, the art form mastered by Butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata. In other words, this work can be read in the context of performance and dance. I think the dance in Popil is different from the "European one", where people stand on the ground and express something, or leap. It seems to have a very magical element to it, always in flux, always transforming.
※Reference: Tatsumi Hijikata (Bijutsu Techo)
In the future, I think it is possible to use contemporary art from South East Asia as an opportunity to decipher "the way of the animal" as a being with a strong sense of otherness, rather than an animal nature repressed by humans. Or, even if there are very difficult images embedded in the work, by reading "what are the artists expressing?" will give us a clue. In the future, the European way of reading art itself will have to be updated. I felt that many hints for this are contained in the works in this collection exhibition.

[5] "Coexistence" and art

From here, we would like to hear from both of you about "coexistence", which is also the title of today's conference.
We are delighted to announce that the artistic director of Documenta 15, a global arts festival to be held in 2022, will be the Indonesian group ruangrupa. I think there are many people like them who are both together and different.
First of all, may I ask you to explain what "coexistence" is, Mr. Ishikura?
※Reference: Artistic director of Documenta15 will be the art collective Luang Rupa. first selection from Asia "February23, 2019, Bijutsu Techo
What is "coexistence"?

  • Katsumi Okuno et al. "Tagui vol.1" (Aki Shobo, March 6, 2019)
    "This is a journal of anthropology by the Anthropological Society of the Multispecies. It explores the nature of human beings through their relationships with multiple species, including animals. Toshiaki Ishikura has been an author since vol.1. Currently, vol.3 is published.
    Source: Katsumi Okuno et al. "Taguivol.1"March6,2019Aki Shobo, Aki Shobo's webshop )

The basis of the word "coexistence" is the concept of "co-heterogeneity". Originally, the word "kyoudoutai" existed in Japan as a translation of community, and Japanese folklore, sociology and cultural anthropology used the terms "village society" and "village community". However, community has a strong image of "a group of people who have the same language and values", and it is easy to think that it is a homogeneous group from the beginning.
In thinking about the reality of symbiosis, how can we conceptualise heterogeneous elements that break down homogeneity? For example, in recent years, the Italian philosopher Esposito Roberto proposed the idea of "immunity" as a complementary concept to "community", which represents communality. In the same way that we inject and immunise ourselves against the foreign in order to maintain our bodies, the question of "how can we live with the foreign, including migrants and other living beings?" has been one of the biggest concerns at the Venice Biennale and Documenta. Europe has extended contradictions to the world, such as colonialism and capitalism, but art and anthropology are also born out of these contradictions, creating immune techniques to relate to the "alien other". So it is becoming a common understanding that Europe must accept the "foreign other" in the world of the future.
Just as the concept of "immunity" is essential for the future of Europe, I believe that the future of Japan and Asia requires the perspective of 'coexistence'. On a personal note, I was inspired by my participation in the "read" programme in Hong Kong in 2017.

  • "Quoted in Toshiaki Ishikura's Wild Tour:TwelveJourneys to the Origins of Archipelago Mythology, published by Awakosha on 30 October 2015.
    Source: Toshiaki Ishikura, "Rimlandia: a mythical network bridging East Asian frontiers"16August2017,r:ead)

At the time, the programme brought together artists and curators from five East Asian countries for various discussions. I shared my views on Japanese mythology and history, which was sympathetic to the people of Taiwan and Hong Kong, but there was a huge backlash from the Korean artists and curators. I said, "If we want to understand the history of others, we must also understand the myths of others", to which the Korean artists replied with a careful counter-argument, "We must overcome the myths of the past and modernise with history".
In the course of my dialogue with them, my Korean interpreter told me about the concept of "coexistence" as proposed by the Japanese philosopher, Kizo Ogura. I felt that this concept was extremely important for Asians to acknowledge and respect each other's different histories and cultural origins, without assuming cooperation or commonality. I took a hint from this and suggested to artists in Korea and other parts of the world that we need to create a relationship in East Asia where we understand each other's different myths and histories, and in the end we were able to establish a very deep discussion and deepen our mutual understanding.
※Reference: Kizo Ogura (Kyoto University Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies Faculty of Integrated Human Studies))
I believe that not only East Asia, but also Southeast Asia can share the same importance of the concept of "coexistence". Can a group of people with different languages and cultures, with different values, become partners in creating new values? Or is it impossible to move forward without the clash of huge money and national values? Based on the former value, I believe that it is very important to respect "being different" while creating, even in the art world.
The concept of coexistencedoes not only point to a vision of alternatives for communities. At the same time, I believe that humanity has always been not a community of single species, but a community of multiple species. I don't think we have ever been a homogeneous group, and if we had been, we would not have survived repeated crises. I think we need to think of cohabitation as a real concept, not just a play on words.
Connections between Osaka and the Mekong region
We would like to ask you what kind of works you have collected so far, and what criteria you used to select the artworks for this exhibition. May I ask you to share your thoughts on the key word "coexistence", Mr. Yabumoto?
I have continued to collect intuitively, so I don't know if I can communicate well and logically, but I will try to explain briefly.
I have been living in the Mekong region for 11 years now. I have been in dialogue with artists from all over the region and have continued to collect as my intuition dictates. I was born in Osaka and grew up in Shirahama town in the Kinan region of Wakayama prefecture, and I believe that the people of Osaka and Kansai are fundamentally quite close to the people of the Mekong. In particular, the land of "Kumano" has a mountain culture and, above all, a strong animistic culture derived from the ancient layers of the Jomon. Could it be that the people of "Kumano" and "Kinan" are the place built by the earlier Jomon and the " Zomia of Water"? In this sense, we may be both the same and different.
I am also fascinated by the delta region formed by the Yodogawa and Yamato Rivers from the foot of Mount Ikoma in Osaka. In this sense, like Osaka, the Mekong region also forms a large Mekong delta in the Mekong River basin, and I feel that it is no coincidence that I was attracted to the Mekong region. One of the things that interested me was the word "sandbar". In Hajime Nakamura's book, Buddha's Words -Suttanipata-, Buddha says the following about sandbars.

Especially in the Mekong River, the amount of water differs completely between the dry and rainy seasons, so a large number of sandbars are formed. Many people from all walks of life flow into these sandbars, and the people of Osaka feel a commonality in the kindness of the people of the Mekong. As Buddha said, the sandbar is full of hints for a richer life.
From the point of view of the legal world, it's a paradox, but lately I've been feeling instinctively that too much understanding of languages is, on the contrary, a cause of conflicts and wars in some parts of the world. In this sense, I think it is important for world peace that when we talk with artists, we bring different myths and stories to each other, and in a way, talk in a loose and fun way. I feel that language-independent art can play a big role in this. Therefore, I feel that there is a value in the work of collecting cultural anthropological and mythological things that look different but are actually connected somehow, and I am making a collection in order to visualise "coexistence".
Also, apart from the discussion of coexistence, from the point of view of an economist, I feel that "Mekong artists are hyper-local and connect the local and global worlds". This, I think, has the potential to solve the current problems of globalisation. In some countries, freedom of expression is still not allowed in some parts of the world, so it is inevitable to connect with the global world. Moreover, many countries in the Mekong region do not have a domestic market for art, so artists have to export their work to the whole world from the moment they create it. But I think that's what makes their work so strong. And above all, their work is very local. For example, Khvay Samnang's works are based on thousands or tens of thousands of years of local history, culture and climate, and are hyper-local and hyper-global. As an economist and a businessman, I have a lot to learn from the perspective of "exporting local art to its utmost limits to the whole world".
In my current job, Japanese companies are expanding globally and localising their products, services, etc. with an eye on the Asian market. On the other hand, they do not modify their products to fit the market or compete for the market. In the first place, they are not interested in competing in the market, but in being with universal resonators and sympathisers somewhere in the world. We give back to the local community the resources we have gained to support the foundations of society. This is the value of the aforementioned ruangrupa and Sa Sa Art Project. I am convinced that this value and this idea can also be found in Osaka, the city that created the very concept of Semba Capitalism.

[6] Summary: Future prospects

This November, Kinan Art Week 2021, an art festival based on the theme of coexistence, will be held in Wakayama Prefecture. The theme of this art festival is "what seems to be contradictory but is not": "caging" in the mountains and "opening" from the port to the world. In the Kinan region of Wakayama Prefecture, we are pleased to present not only the work of Asian artists, but also the work of Japanese  artists. The exhibition dates are 18th - 28th November. If you are interested in contemporary art through this collection exhibition, please have a look at this exhibition as well.

  • Kinan Art Week 2021:

Ishikura's outlook

Due to time constraints, I would like to ask you both to make a few closing remarks.
As with today's conference, I think Yabumoto's discussion says it all. I think that the potential that Osaka and Semba have is that they are "capital concentrations" in an archipelago sea of sandy islands, known as "Yasoshima", that have emerged from the water.
In his book "Osaka Earth Diver", Shinichi Nakazawa, who is also my teacher, says that from the Uemachi plateau in Osaka, there runs from north to south the "Apollo axis", which seems to form a vertical order, and from east to west the "Dionysus axis", which seems to govern death all the way from Mount Ikoma. At the intersection of these axes is the sandbar, the stage of Semba capitalism. Semba capitalism is a fluid, unchanging flow of sand, floating in and out of existence. It was in this context that the credit economy was conducted, and a "system of exchange" was established that would allow the economy to survive even in a highly liquid environment.

※Reference: "Outline of the ward: Nishiyodogawa-ku, Osaka City" (Nishiyodogawa-ku, Osaka City Web site)
And in "Earth Diver ", also recently published by Mr.Nakazawa, he connects with the issue of marine earth-diver-like, oceanic zomia. In terms of art, a good example of this is Zai Kuning's work "Open to the Sea", which he curated for the Reborn-Art Festival 2019. The theme of this work is that the history of the islands that emerged from the huge land mass known as Sundaland*, which is said to have existed in Southeast Asia during the Ice Age, is actually connected to the islands of the Japanese Archipelago. Through art like his work, I believe that we will need a movement to rethink Osaka in the future.
※Reference: Zai Kuning (Reborn-Art Festival 2019)
What is Sundaland (Kotobank)
Osaka is a very important commercial centre of Japan, and at the same time a key place where Japanese capitalism was born. In particular, the sandbar at the mouth of the Yodo River was the very place where Zomia: Trans-local Migrants on the Water, gathered from the continents, peninsulas and islands of East Asia to create a new system of value through exchange. The riverbanks and sandbars seem to embody the principle of a place where the principles of karma and non-karma are at odds, as the Japanese historian Yoshihiko Amino has long argued. In other words, in a space of high fluidity, things that are ultimately gifts from nature are transformed into symbols of commodities and distributed in the human world. It is also a land of boundaries with such a history. I think that "Sea of Zomia" is an important concept that connects the Mekong River and the Yodo River, or Sundaland and Osaka in this way.
About Yoshihiko Amino (Kotobank)
On the other hand, Osaka and Wakayama have a deep historical relationship and I believe that Wakayama is the place where the Japanese style of "mountain zomia" developed.  here are "open places" like the ports of Osaka and the Kii Peninsula where trade takes place, and "secluded places" like Wakayama where Kumagusu Minakata spent his time in the mountains.I think there is a great potential for Mr. Yabumoto and Mr. Miyatsu to hold Kinan Art Week in a way that travels back and forth between these two areas.

The context of art has been constructed in a very Eurocentric, anthropocentric or masculinist way. Recently, there have been movements such as feminism and non-Western art collectives that have shaken this idea. "From Asia, too, we are seeing the emergence of fluid ideas and forms of practice that transcend the new capitalism, as in the case of ruangrupa, artistic director of Documenta 15. In Osaka, too, the seeds of a transformation from the neoliberal system are beginning to appear in many places. In the future, a new trend of decapitalism and de-growth may be born from Semba.
At the beginning of the exhibition, Mr. Yabumoto mentioned "world peace", and it is very important that there are businessmen and economists who can speak straightforwardly about this idea. In the sense of inheriting the philosophy of Konosuke Matsushita, it is also important that art can come up with perspectives that can renew Japan, which is still in decline. In this sense, I expect that the Semba Art Site Project and Kinan Art Week will be one of the most important movements.
Thank you, Mr. Ishikura. Zai Kuning is a Singaporean artist, a seafaring person, a true Zomia of the sea. I think he is an artist who continues to follow maritime people and seafaring people across the border.
Now, Mr. Yabumoto, please give us your closing remarks.
Yabumoto's outlook


In the article I have written for this issue, Serge Latouche, a quote from his book Degrowth. In the last chapter of his book, he discusses the role of art and asks, "Doesn't art have a power similar to magic?" 
※Reference: About Serge Latouche (Kotobank)
Degrowth Theory of the Anthropocene A Compilation of 'Critiques of Capitalism by Serge Latouche November5, 2020, Jinbundo)

  • Komtouch Napattaloong, 「Unmoved Expanded」2021, two-channel video, audio,21:43mins

  • Komtouch Napattaloong,「Unmoved Expanded」2021, two-channel video, audio,21:43mins

Komtouch Napattaloong, a contemporary Thai artist, has created a documentary about the Vietnamese "Hmong" community in Thailand in a work called Unmoved Expanded. In an interview with a Hmong woman who appears in the film, she is asked "Why do you paint these two birds? She replies "Because they are just beautiful".
※Reference: About the Hmong people (Kotobank)
I think that this is exactly what Latouche is talking about. He believes that animism is the only idea that respects things and the environment, and that the most important thing is to "regenerate the intuition and capacity to be astonished and moved in the presence of the beauty of the world". As I continue to run my business in today's global society, I wonder if the sensibility of "simply being moved by something beautiful" is properly preserved in our modern society. And this is one of the main reasons why I am active in the art world.
We, Zomia, certainly have the idea of animism embedded in our genes, and I think this is precisely the key argument in what Latouche calls the "re-magicisation of the world". To put it another way, I think it's about how to realise "the rediscovery of the value of the sacred and the restoration of our capacity to marvel and be moved by beauty". I believe that the Zomia people of Osaka, the Kansai region and the Mekong region will be key actors in making this happen.
Thank you very much, Mr. Yabumoto.
I am very sorry, but it is time to go.
Mr. Yabumoto has just mentioned the idea of "re-magicisation", which I think is also a kind of antithesis of modernity. In addition to Latouche, many other thinkers and philosophers are discussing "re-magicisation", which I would like to discuss with Mr. Ishikuraand Mr. Yabumoto next time.
I would now like to conclude and hand over to our general moderator, Mr. Suzuki.
Thank you both for your time.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
Thank you all for a very profound talk.
Due to popular demand, the Semba Art Site Project Vol.1 has been extended until 5th September. Please come and enjoy the exhibition including the collection of the AURA Contemporary Art Foundation, of which Mr. Yabumoto is a representative.
This concludes today's Semba Art Site Project Vol.1 Conference, "Zomi: Trans-local Migrants on the Water". Thank you very much for your time today.