Art in ASEAN Part 1: How art can impact lives and inspire hope in the new normal

By: Hein Thu Soe & Pam Viriyataveekul

Despite hardships and questions like, ‘Is art essential?’ artists continue to show the world how it heals people, reduces the impact of climate change, unites communities, and most importantly, inspires hope. As rewarding as it may be, a career in art can be complicated.

This article will give readers insights on how art can be a force for good, as well as provide practical insights from fellow ASEAN artists to turn adversity into opportunity during this new normal. Welcome to the creative life you can design!

Art as a force for good

“One reason art is taking a role in the development of different sectors of the world is that its impact is unique. People have their own cognitive behavior and art holds the ability to reach those depths where no words can and thus can change the way people think and behave.”, said Zoncy, a visual performance artist from Myanmar.

The Art of Healing – Look no further than the healthcare sector to visualize Zoncy’s words come to life. Art can be used as a medium of healing, where medical intervention alone can’t reach its patients. A British patient who suffered from depression who was clinically referred to engage with the arts in the community and was amazed by how drawing and painting stopped the racing thoughts in her head and as well as allowed her to be someone other than a mental health patient.

Fighting climate change with mural paintings – As 6 out of 20 most climate-change vulnerable countries are in ASEAN, a young Vietnamese mural artist decided to paint a contrast between the plastic pollution and the beautiful natural world to inspire wonder about saving the world in time.

Urban Regeneration – From the slums of Brazil to Bangkok, art strengthens community-driven development in poor neighborhoods. In Rio de Janeiro, the favelas transformed precarious space into a colorful art-installation place. Likewise, in the Klong Toey slum of Bangkok, a nonprofit uses music teaching to tackle the issue of drug addiction and violence in youth, turning even the darkest places into safe artsy ones.

Freedom of expression – “In Myanmar, the artists are part of the force for change, more free expression, more honest and emotional conversations about the state of the arts and the state of the country.” Claims Nathalie Johnston, Founder/Director of Myanmart claims about the Myanmar Artists.

COVID 19 and the impact on the art industry

When going through recent activities, it’s obvious that art plays an important role in this new normal and it had a tremendous impact on the art communities as well. In Southeast Asia, major events like KUL Biennale 2020, Art Moments Jakarta, and Bangkok Art Book Fair 2020 have been canceled or postponed indefinitely. This pandemic has caused galleries to close and markets to find online solutions. G-13 Gallery in Kuala Lumpur switched to holding exhibitions online. Museums in Indonesia also followed the same recipe with a virtual tour. (#MuseumAtHome).

“This may have affected some market on Myanmar art but I don’t think this has many effects on art communities in Myanmar, rather everyone staying home, the creators, and the writers came to have more space and time for their creative space having more time and thus become more productive.”, claims a young Myanmar artist Su Nyein Chan. According to her, some strong market is easily brought online like some book genres that have strong fandom.

Like she mentioned in this new normal, some artists grab the chance to do what they do the best, rediscovering themselves. And artists are not just adapting this new normal by innovative manners but also evolving by using arts as a medium to express their feelings and issues. Some have even begun using arts as a medium against COVID 19: cartoonists and illustrators use art to fight against COVID 19 by means of awareness. Not just as a communication medium, art can also be an active force for saving lives. In a Thai project “Breath”, a group of photographers from Thailand sold their artwork to raise money for treatment and supplies needed for COVID-19 patients.

Another good example would be the handwashing dance from the Vietnam song “Ghen Co Vy” that went viral in the past month having over a million reach in Tik Tok and other social media. The essence is that dance, a form of arts, cares so little about language barriers and can convey this awareness message through body movements. Also Sin Sar Bar, an art social enterprise in Myanmar has produced local awareness song ‘Stay at Home’ featuring a famous local singer. And Sin Sar Bar also works with celebrities and artists and uses voices to fight against COVID -19issues such as domestic violence which is a part of the shadow pandemic.

“Artists everywhere have been using their reach and connections with their fans to help get these messages out, so I think art and artists have been crucial yet still underappreciated,” says Zaid Moosa, the co-founder of Sin Sar Bar.

On the other hand, Cartoonist Lai Loon claims that giving awareness and information on COVID-19 through news and media are not quite effective as conveying them through comic work, illustration, or likewise. Thus we can see how arts play an important role even in this crisis.

Although, despite state and international grant support to artists, the fact remains that this new normal has caused a halt on cultural work across the world while the art communities are still adapting to this new reality. Whether you are an artist starting out in a creative career or a professional in the industry, navigating the new normal can be daunting.

With this, read the 2nd part of this article as we provide you some tips and tricks to help all aspiring artists design a rewarding career with confidence in this new normal.

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