Asian Australian art goes online
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How can social media boost the profile of Asian Australian art?
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Asian Australian art goes online

by Devana Senanayake See Profile
Melbourne VIC, Australia
5th Oct 2018
Asian Australian art goes online

“We had no one help us with the PR,” says Bryan Collie. Collie is the gallerist of MIFA and an art dealer.

Collie brought in Asia Pacific art “on a big scale” to Melbourne, including events that he describes as “museum-quality exhibitions”. He even rented out his events to high profile clients like Chanel in the hope of promoting Asia Pacific art to Australia.

Still his vision fell short. One of the biggest obstacles he faced in promoting Asian art to the Victorian public was the disinterest of media organisations, art critics and art journalists.

Perhaps, the use of social media could help reach younger audiences? Social media can be a highly effective PR tool, particularly for marginalised identities.

Dr Tammy Wong Hulbert believes that internet presence is crucial for contemporary artists.

“To have an audience you have to connect online,” says Tammy.

Social media can also help Asian Australian artists connect to culturally and linguistically varied audiences who do not tune into mainstream channels because they do not see themselves or their experiences represented fairly, or more often, represented at all. They prefer to tune into brands or influencers who focus on a different experience to the dominant narrative.

“Social media is a platform that enables like-minded people to discover each other and connect – whereby people can find and connect with a community, in this way Asian-Australian artists could use social media to connect with one another” says a representative of Asia Link Arts.

Kate Bettes, editor and media liaison of online art gallery Art Pharmacy and Vandal Gallery, touched upon the importance of social media for the sale of art made by Asian Australian artists.

When a customer purchases a piece, they are not just purchasing an object. The customer is “buying the story and learning” about this history and experience which informs the work. This is certainly important if the artist behind the piece is from a marginalised, underrepresented community. In this regard, Kate believes that social media has helped enhance the “diversity of artist stories”.

Art Pharmacy uses tools such as Instagram stories to promote artist biographies and conversations that helps customers learn about the artist. Social media has brought organisations, businesses and celebrities closer to their audience. Audience interaction has become redefined and it is easier to reach a point of closeness that resembles interpersonal interactions. This helps eliminate any misconceptions about dissimilarity, particularly in relation to purchasing art by Asian Australian artists.

“Not only does this help us sell their art and generate an income for the artist, but socially speaking it's adding to the diversity narrative that is becoming stronger and stronger [through] time” says Kate.

Once the panel discussion for her exhibition “Hyphenated” commenced, Tammy uploaded a recorded session online.

Tammy is also a visual artist and meticulously documents the entire process of creating an art piece.

“It takes on another life online,” Tammy says. “The document becomes everything in an online world.”

In the recording, the artists spoke about their art practices and the context behind each of their pieces. When I visited the exhibition, I could unpack the pieces in light of the messages that the artists hoped to convey.

Tammy raised an interesting absence for Asian Australian artists in Melbourne. She said that, unlike Sydney, Melbourne lacked a central, community space particularly “artists, academics and people interested in art”.

“It’s not a huge gallery. It was a shop front with an upstairs gallery but it was a place to go to. More so than anything it was about connecting with other people in that space. I must say that I miss that in Melbourne,” says Tammy.

Perhaps, online communities on social media can help fill this gap? The obstacle of accessibility erodes when the artists can connect to their audience without intermediaries.

Dr Tseen Khoo started the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) to push Asian Australian voices and experiences that had “previously been marginalised or not even represented, not even in the picture” to the front and center as the theme and subject of research”.

The AASRN has a mixture of academics, artists and people that focus on Asian Australian relations. Despite the group’s academic roots, it constantly promotes up and coming Asian Australian artists.

“There’s an eclectic bunch of membership that makes it not a very traditional research network,” says Tseen.

The group started on a Yahoo mailing list in the 1990s. Word of mouth helped expand the groups as teachers told their students about it, and students, in turn, told their peers about it.

“Obviously researchers are interested in the Asian Australian community and often in activist modes – What kind of counter cultural narratives are they talking about? What kinds of stories are they bringing into the national dialogue or are being suppressed?” says Tseen. “What is done in the Asian Australian sphere is highly relevant to Asian Australian studies.”

With the expansion of the influence of the internet came a variety of ideas on the management of the group and the demographic of people involved in the group.

“We thought we might grow the way an academic society might grow and have proper members with membership fees. But then, we thought…that’s exclusionary. We won’t be able to talk to [people] we want to see involved in these conversations” says Tseen.

In 2011, the group shifted to Facebook. As expected, social media helped the group and its cause to expand even further.

“Everything was more or less thrown open,” says Tseen.

The community constantly posts artist achievements, event launches, exhibition openings and podcasts. This online space is a brilliant place for burgeoning artists to join because everyone is happy to share information and is ready to support the various components of the artist journey.

Academics within the Asian Australian studies discipline rely on artists for areas of their research so there is a beautiful relationship of interaction and celebration that builds on a foundation of interdependency.

“I see a lot of conversations that happen online; sharing and supporting,” says Tseen. “We give them the advocacy, audience and feedback at a basic level and then we get more of it which is all good.”

The group certainly helped Tammy, particularly in her early days as a mother. She used the group to “physically connect [to] people” and to have “some sort of community presence”.

Perhaps, the greatest achievement of online communities that center the Asian Australian experience is the exposure to critical thinking and critical theory around race.

“It is a very activated space where people are aware of the issues that may affect the making of art or cultural artefacts or things that circulate within our society; and having that critical eyes as well about the various frameworks that we operate within having to do with racism, micro-aggressions” says Tseen.

Ultimately, this helps unlock closed doors, renegotiate the identity and, perhaps even, completely dismantle the practices that halt progress.

Check out Art Pharmacy.

Art Pharmacy
Devana Senanayake

About Devana Senanayake

Devana Senanayake is currently based in Melbourne, Victoria. She is a multimedia journalist and radio producer. She focuses on race, gender, colonisation, diasporas and food. She has been featured on SBS, Meanjin, Why Not, Ascension Magazine and Writers Magazine.

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Minority Voices
Melbourne VIC, Australia
5th October 2018

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