Photo via Saigoneer

Weekly S.E.A. Radar: Vietnamese Cursed Image; Art SG pushed back to 2020; finding Kafka in Yangon

ArtsEquator Radar features articles and posts about arts and culture in Southeast Asia, drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region. Here’s a round-up of content from this week, scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms, and brought together in one article for convenient reading.

The page description of Vietnamese Cursed Image (VCI) has a single line: “how did you get here?” — a question I find myself asking often. Photo via Saigoneer

The Discomforting Poetry of Vietnamese Cursed Image

I can’t remember how I first stumbled upon VCI, fell face-first into its assortment of eccentric, mind-boggling shenanigans, and became hooked on its brand of uniquely Vietnamese discomfort. This is probably a question many of the page’s 249,000-odd fans ask themselves sometimes. Love is irrational, but finding oneself drawn to pixelated photos of people munching on Oreos with rice or bánh mì with hột vịt lộn might be a symptom of a latent masochistic trait.

According to Facebook, Vietnamese Cursed Image was created in July 2018. Two months later, it had amassed 50,000 likes, only to double that within the span of another two months, reaching 100,000 in November last year. At the time of writing, the page is just one thousand likes shy of 250,000, an impressive feat by any measure. It posts sporadically throughout the day, seven days a week — more often than not, photos that are frustrating, sad, funny, mocking, sickening, or a mixture of all of the above. It’s beyond anyone, even the page founder, as to how the community could grow so fast and so furiously.

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“Gaze Back” (Ethos Books, 2018) by Marylyn Tan. Photo: Marylyn Tan @masqueerades

Caution, Extremely Hot Stuff
The Margins

Gaze Back (Ethos Books, 2018) is a book that could be considered “difficult” anywhere in the world: exploding gender and sex norms, raunch-ifying beauty standards, overturning power dynamics, scandalizing institutional religion, rejecting the comfortable at every turn, and braiding in Singlish, Hokkien, found messages, unicode, and astrological glyphs. So how might this “difficult” book be read in its home context of Singapore, where the spaces of alterity can be tightly cramped, even criminal? And how might the book be read in its neighboring contexts around Southeast Asia, where cultural and personal visions of feminism and queerness can vary dramatically?

Wanting to explore Marylyn Tan’s groundbreaking work across various grounds/waters/countries, the Transpacific Literary Project gathered its first cross-border book club to read together and, in the space of a shared online document, shape a collective review. Following a conversation among readers Tania De Rozario (Singapore/Vancouver), Phyu Hnin Phway (Yangon/Singapore), Cyntha Hariadi (Bali), and Phina So (Phnom Penh) is a brief interview with Marylyn Tan in which she opens up her thoughts on spirituality, gender, and power.

Detail from Fernando Botero’s Woman With Mask and Trumpet, one of the major artworks for sale at Art Stage Singapore in 2018. The annual trade event was cancelled at short notice this year and has gone bust. A new art fair there, Art SG, has delayed its launch by almost a year. Photo: Art Stage Singapore

Year’s delay for new Singapore art fair, but galleries said to be interested when it now launches in 2010
South China Morning Post

Art SG, the new art fair aimed at reviving Singapore’s flagging art market, has been pushed back by a year to late 2020. On Thursday, the owners of Art SG said the decision was made in response to requests from galleries and key participants for more time to prepare for the fair, which had been slated for November 2019.

The city state no longer has a major international art fair after Art Stage Singapore was cancelled a week ahead of its planned January 24 opening this year. Launched in 2011, the annual trade event has now gone bust.

Its founder, Lorenzo Rudolf, was scathing about the city’s potential as an art hub when asked about the sharp fall in the number of galleries participating in the fair’s last years.

In response, some dealers and artists argue that the failure of Art Stage had more to do with its organisation than the city itself, which many still believe has the wealth, efficiency and the advantage of geography to become Southeast Asia’s leading art hub.

Mohamad “Ucup” Yusuf (all photos by Jamie James).

The Legacy and Life of a Political Art Collective

SEMBUNGAN, Java, Indonesia — In 1998, after decades of rule by repressive authoritarian regimes, democracy came to Indonesia. The government of Suharto, the Army general who had run the country like a private fiefdom since 1965, was brought down by mass street demonstrations in Java, the island where half the country’s population lives. Artists played a prominent role in the democracy movement, functioning collectively as an amateur propaganda ministry. In Jogjakarta, the city in Central Java long acknowledged as Java’s arts capital, “people power” found a spirited partner in an informal artists collective that would take the name Taring Padi. Almost anarchic in its idealism, the group comprised a fluid membership ranging from a dozen to 20 artists and performers, mostly but not exclusively male, many of them students or recent graduates of the Indonesian Art Institute, one of the country’s leading art schools.

The group coalesced during this period of social upheaval in the late 1990s, turning out a flood of satirical, often inflammatory posters and pamphlets, before the rise of social media and viral videos. Bold and vigorous in their expression, Taring Padi bitterly denounced the corruption of President Suharto and the harsh tactics of the Army and state police that served him with ruthless efficiency.

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“For Bikolnon readers, we hope that they’d see ‘BKL/Bikol Bakla’ as a proud testament to our literary wealth as a region,” says co-editor Ryen Paul Sumayao. Photo via CNN Philippines

The anthology that celebrates queer Bikolnon writing
CNN Philippines

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Over 20 years since the release of Danton Remoto’s first “Ladlad” anthology, there still remains a dearth of LGBTQ+ representation in literature, more so when it comes to stories of queer folk outside of major cities. Enter “BKL/Bikol Bakla,” the first anthology of Bikolnon gay, trans, and queer writing.

In this book, you’ll find stories of longing, of desire, of fleeting moments of connection, of reckoning with guilt, fear, and illness — all relatable factions of life as a queer Filipino, and yet these stories also speak of uniquely queer Bikol experiences.

In Paolo Gerero’s “Silver,” a boy has a brief encounter with a handsome young man while waiting for a tricycle to the town center; Ryen Paul Sumayao’s “Daragang Magayon, Transgender” reimagines the myth Magayon as a transgender woman; in King Llanza’s “Talahiban Blues,” the narrator cruises in a grassy field; in Riley Palanca’s “Souvenir,” a balikbayan spends the night with a high school love, recounting days spent in the pockets of safe spaces around Naga.

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Alena Murang is a Malaysian artiste on a mission to preserve the Kelabit and Kenyah tradition and language through art and music. IMAGE: Lope Canavoca

Armed with the Sape’, Alena Murang reveals to us why preserving Sarawak’s heritage through music is important
Mashable Southeast Asia

Alena Murang is no stranger when it comes to world music.

Born in the island of Borneo, the 30-year-old Malaysian has been making waves abroad for being among the only few women who can play Sarawak’s traditionally male lute instrument, the sape’.

The multi-talented artiste has been at the forefront telling culturally rich stories of the Orang Ulu of Sarawak such as the Kenyah, Kelabit, and Penan through music and art.

Being part Kelabit, it was her English-Italian mother who spurred her on to learn more about her Sarawakian roots.

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“Siaran Ulangan (Repeat Broadcast)”, a woodcut print by art collective Pangrok Sulap. (Photo: Tho Xin Yi)

Malaysia’s artists pledge to continue pushing boundaries of political expression
Channel NewsAsia

KUALA LUMPUR: The signature hairdo, which curls outward at the ends and attached with a price tag of RM1,200 (US$288); and a Sapuman (Man of Steal) character who hails from a planet called Kleptocrat – a play on the fictional hero Superman from Krypton.

These were recurring elements in the political cartoons of Zunar, who used his work to draw attention to the claims of abuse of power and the corruption allegations that gripped the Najib Razak administration. Last May, the Barisan Nasional government was ousted by Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Intimidation, detention, book bans and court charges through his career have failed to silence the 57-year-old, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

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Photo via

How can we create a common language in Asia?

I’ve been to Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila (Philippines) for about this one month. These three cities have some things in common. First of all, it’s super hot…! And English is one of the official languages of them. This time, let’s think about this “English”.

In Singapore, I participated in an international conference called Asian Art Media Roundtable (AAMR). It was operated by ArtsEquator which is an art media focusing on Southeast Asia, and the Japan Foundation Asia Center supported as well. This was the first held. The 2.5 days conference had become a fulfilling content, and it had made great achievements as the first step of sharing information. You can see the photos here.

As I wrote in the second article of this series, international meetings on performing arts are already held actively throughout Asia. Among them, AAMR in Singapore was unique because it was a gathering of critics or journalists, not of artists or producers. It was not so easy to understand the abstract, complex, fast-paced English of the critics, and I felt that I should improve my English ability… But at the same time, I also felt that this kind of difficulties about language should not be focused only on the participants’ English ability.

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The cover of The Metamorphosis. Photo: Zon Pann Pwint/The Myanmar Times

Finding Kafka in Yangon
Myanmar Times

Franz Kafka, the prodigy from Prague, is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Thanks to Myanmar Literature experts, such as Myint Than and Ko Naing Oo (Tin Oo Khat), Kafka’s works have been introduced and translated into Myanmar.

Among others, one of Kafka’s most famous books, Das Schloss (The Castle), was translated into Myanmar by writer Nat Nwe. To further popularise this extraordinary writer in Southeast Asia, the festival is being held in Myanmar this year for the first time.

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About the author(s)

Kathy Rowland is the Managing Editor of, a registered charity that she co-founded with Jenny Daneels in 2016. The site is dedicated to supporting and promoting arts criticism with a regional perspective in Southeast Asia. Kathy has worked in the arts for over 25 years, working in the areas of critical writing and arts advocacy, with a special interest in media platforms for the arts. She is the Project Lead for ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asian Arts and Culture Censorship Documentation Project, launched in 2021. She has written extensively on censorship of arts and culture in Malaysia. She was a member of the International Programme Advisory Committee of the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, 2019.

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