The artists you should be paying attention to from across the Asia Pacific region.


South Australian photographer Narelle Autio stays submerged under water as long as she can in order to capture an otherworldly moment in time, her photos silent observations of humans at play in the surrounding world.

“There is no gravity as such, so bodies can fly and spin in ways they can’t do on land,” she says. “Adults seem to experience a re-birthing, and under the cover of water there is freedom, they become children again.”

In her Water Hole series, dark depths are pierced by shards of light and splashing or suspended bodies, and winding reeds and moss, saturated with colour, create alien landscapes. Above ground her mastery of colour and timing is also apparent. Her most recent series, To the Sea, began back in 2003 when she and her partner, photographer Trent Parke, travelled around Australia. She visually narrates her journey, reflecting on the physical and psychological landscape, the collection coming out of this and subsequent journeys, with images often taken at high speed from the window of a car.

Autio’s work includes time as a photojournalist for the Adelaide Advertiser, Australia’s News Limited London bureau, and the Sydney Morning Herald. Her vibrant, almost tangibly textured images have garnered her many awards, including Walkley Awards in both 2000 and 2002, and the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2002 for her series Coastal Dwellers. But taking photos isn’t just about work for Autio. She likens it to a form of therapy.

“I have a rather pessimistic view of humankind,” she says. “I’m attracted to what I find beautiful and what makes others joyful. It makes me feel better about where we are at, and gives me faith.”

For more information about Narelle Autio, visit


Korean artist Lee Jaehyo creates visually compelling sculptures that are made out of raw wood, twisted nails, branches, and leaves that he collects from around his studio and from forests. In any given artwork, he typically chooses a single ingredient, and by layering it and repeating over and over again, he builds up smooth, sensual shapes with highly engaging textures.

“He uses very normal materials that we can easily find and see, such as wood, stones, nails,” says his manager, Steven Choi. “These materials are so common and are never taken seriously as artwork material, but he uses them and turns them into art pieces.”

Lee attempts to preserve the natural characteristics of the material he uses and instead transforms the meaning of it. Nails become smooth rocks, branches become sofas, large rings or bulbous benches. In his wooden sculptures, bark and age rings are exposed, giving a sense of time, and yet the forms are arrestingly modern.

“Personally, I like his installation in the forest in Ireland [Sculpture in Woodland],” says Choi. “It’s an amazing work and it will disappear as time passes.”

It’s works like this that have made Lee an established name in Korea, America and Europe. His pieces are prized by interior designers and private collectors, with his sculptures going for around US$30,000-US$100,000 ($32,000-$108,000) each. They can be found in hotel lobbies and in landscaped public areas, and occasionally out of place in their own natural environment.

For information about Lee Jaehyo, visit


British-born Perth resident Hayley Welsh paints finely detailed whimsical creatures on objects that she finds around her – scrapyard pieces of wood, faded picture frames, old paintings, and so on. At first glance they seem to be something out of a children’s book, but in fact they come from a darker, more complex place, she says.

“They symbolise the ‘voices’ inside my head – sometimes positive and at other times negative. My latest body of work, Little Voices, has been themed around the idea of ‘self-doubt’ and listening to one’s inner ‘voices’ and emotions, something that has intrigued me for a long time.”

Welsh’s creatures were first imagined a few years ago when she began painting on wood.

“I looked at the knots in the grain and saw these wide eyes staring back at me,” she recalls. “After a while, I started seeing the faces of these little creatures on everything I looked at.”

Welsh’s work strongly reflects the area that she’s in at the time. The surreal new worlds, for example, that materialised in her A Place For Us project, came out of the inspiration she drew from her time in Port Hedland in the Pilbara region. Right now, new lands are emerging as Welsh journeys across the US in an old school bus-turned-mobile studio. Travelling from San Francisco to New York, Welsh is collecting objects along the way and painting them as she goes. The journey will culminate in a show at Superchief Gallery in New York this June,
and then Hayley is back in Australia at the Perth City Linton & Kay Gallery just before Christmas.

For more information about Hayley Welsh or Little Voices, visit


Unlike some countries in Asia where artists struggle to be given a voice, art in Singapore is part of everyday life. Since the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system first began, art has been an important feature of it. City Hall and Raffles Place stations, for instance, both had art integrated into their original finishes when they were constructed in the late 1980s.

Building on this, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) decided to make art a standard part of getting around the city, and in 1997 it established the Art in Transit program. It began with the North East Line, installing permanent works by some of Singapore’s top artists. Following this success, the LTA then commissioned a younger generation of artists to enhance the Circle Line. Recently, the LTA launched the Downtown Line Art in Transit program. When the line is complete in 2017, each of its 34 stations will feature artworks by both commissioned artists and those selected through competitions.

The art that is chosen for these programs covers a wide array of styles. As passengers zip around the city, they’ll encounter works by traditional woodblock print artists, Chinese ink painters, graphic designers, commercial photographers, and more. It’s the biggest public art project in Singapore, and for good reason. Not only does it beautify a normally clinical style of environment, it supports local Singaporean artists. In addition to that, it engages everyday people with art in their daily lives, offering them a collection of works that speaks about Singapore’s history and culture.

For more information, take an Art in Transit Walking Tour held by Art Outreach,


It can be a challenge for artists in developing countries, such as Laos, to fully extend their art form. Artists in the West are savvier about promoting themselves through social media and marketing, and they have more opportunities to participate in government-backed projects and to apply for residences abroad. There are only a handful of contemporary galleries in Laos, such as M Gallery in Vientiane in the Mekong region, and online platform Art Loft, that are pushing the boundaries and working to cultivate an international appreciation of local artists.

One such talent being supported by these enterprises and currently making headway is contemporary Laotian painter Marisa Darasavath. Darasavath is known for her whimsical, vibrant paintings, which deal with the evolving role and perception of women in Laotian culture. Subtly referencing traditional Laotian art and motifs, she uses bold colours and curvilinear forms to express varying themes on women and domesticity.

“Marisa’s work often reflects the simple way of life where there is much optimism as well as intimacy found in her paintings,” says Michelle Chan, Chief Curator at Art Loft. “In a country that is opening up and developing, Marisa paints the constant that is closest to her heart – her family and community.”

For more information on Marisa Darasavath, visit


Your mood can’t help but brighten when you look at the works of Japanese artist Fumiko Toda. Lush with texture and vibrant colours, her paintings and prints trigger a sense of happiness. Butterflies and flowers rest against layered backdrops, and often evoke a fantastical dreamlike state that you might associate with a Japanese anime film.

Some of this is drawn out of her childhood in rural Japan, some from her later life when she moved to New York.

“I think what you experienced in your childhood is very powerful in determining your artistic sense,” she says. “The smell, the colour, the wetness, the air, the emptiness, the denseness, the nature and the culture of Japan are fundamental to my art.”

America’s Big Apple might not share the rich topography of Toda’s hometown village, but its liberal society has had its own influences.

“It hasn’t changed [my art] fundamentally,” she says, “but maybe I have changed the way I accept, conceive and express myself. Being in New York allows me to be more honest and free in many ways!”

When Toda describes her approach to art, it seems almost like a form of therapy. “My goal is to not to be afraid of being uncomfortable and to try my very best every time I create something,” she says.

In one of her most striking works to date, Toda has painted directly on to a large egg shape. Inspired by Satoru’s Trip, another painting that she had done of her father’s mountain-climbing adventures, she experimented with the idea of a white path that winds amongst the flowers up into the mountain.

For more information on Fumiko Toda, visit


Indian artist Nalini Malani has become an important presence in south Asia, and is something of a pioneer in the patriarchal art world of her homeland. Drawing on ancient myths and literature, she brings them to life through a complex union of shadowplay, painting, video projections and a host of other media. Her artwork examines and observes how society progresses and regresses again and again over time, and it becomes a conduit for conversations, her creations drawing people in through their beauty and then engaging them in dialogues about politics, oppression, war and destruction.

Having worked as an artist for more than 40 years, Malani is no newcomer, but her techniques are constantly evolving and pushing boundaries. In 2013, she was recognised for this, becoming the first female Asian artist to be awarded the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize in contemporary art.

One of her most ambitious pieces, In Search of Vanished Blood, which took
a year and a half to create, won much acclaim at the prestigious dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition in Kassel, Germany in 2012. It examines violence against women, expressed by 360-degree video projections that pierce five delicately painted Mylar cylinders spinning like prayer wheels. Shadows flicker on the surrounding walls and intertwine with music and narration. “I reject all the sperm I have received,” says the ominous voiceover of the mythical Cassandra. “I turn the milk of my breasts into poison, I take back the world I gave birth to, I bury it in my womb.”

“It is like a proscenium-arch theatre piece – with performers, text and
sound effects,” says Malani.

Malani admits that the Indian community might be more tuned in to her specific cultural references, but argues that her work translates into an international dialogue.

“If I say to somebody in India the word ‘Sita’, the person immediately knows what character I may be talking about,” she says. “It is about transmitting an emotion that I have felt deeply. Even if the entire context may not get communicated due to the visitors coming from assorted cultures, the tone
and timbre does. In fact,” she adds, “I have had people come out of my space
in dOCUMENTA in tears.”

For more information about Nalini Malani, visit, and search YouTube to see a video of In Search of Vanished Blood at dOCUMENTA (13).


New York has the Met and MOMA, Paris has the Louvre, and London the Tate. Asia, however, is a little lacking when it comes to major art centres. That is all set to change when M+ opens in Hong Kong in 2017.

Architects from all over the world competed for the right to design the complex, which will sit on prime real estate in West Kowloon overlooking Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong Skyline. The winner of the competition was none other than Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, also known for having designed London’s Tate Modern museum and Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium.

Shown the land on which M+ was to be built, the firm was told to ignore and build over the Airport Express train tunnels that lay beneath it. The tunnels were seen as a disadvantage of the site – what Herzog & de Meuron did instead, however, was to turn them into the starting point of the gallery’s structure.

Construction is now underway, and while it will be visually competitive against the backdrop of Kowloon’s other sparkling buildings, its design is driven primarily by function than flashy form. From the surrounding parks to the level of internal visibility, from its focus on education and workshops to its cafes and restaurants, M+ will be a space that management hopes will attract casual perusers and serious art lovers alike. Areas that would normally be off limits to visitors in most galleries or art museums, such as private spaces where artwork still under curation will actually form part of public viewing. “It certainly could become the most important institution for visual arts, visual communication, visual performance, and artists’ work or crossover work in Asia – and not only in Asia,” says Jacques Herzog, Senior Partner of Herzog & de Meuron.

Twenty years ago, the M+ site did not even exist. It was reclaimed from Victoria Harbour and is now known as West Kowloon Cultural District. The district is still under intense development, but small events and displays have already started popping up. In 2015, the district will begin to open in earnest, with other major venues for the performing and visual arts set to open ahead of M+.

For more information on M+ and current events, visit


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