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  • Feb 19, 2021

Contemporary Issues: Friday News Roundup

A portrait of LEYLA STEVENS. Image via Facebook.

The past week saw several announcements recognizing the work of artists who examine critical contemporary issues, ranging from socio-political topics to those engaged with environmental or cultural domains. Here is a look at some of these initiatives as well as other news from around the cultural world.

On February 13, the Casula Powerhouse Arts Center announced Australian-Balinese artist and researcher Leyla Stevens as the winner of its 66th Blake Prize, which awards AUD 35,000 (USD 27,200) biennially to an artist whose works engage with themes of spirituality and religion. Based in Sydney, Stevens works with photography and film to explore alternative histories. Her winning three-channel video installation, Kidung/Lament (2019), investigates Bali’s political violence and the continued impacts of this past. The work centers on a banyan tree, a Balinese symbol of eternal life, at a mass grave for victims of Indonesia’s 1965–66 anti-Communist massacres, which reportedly killed approximately 80,000 people in Bali. The tree serves as both a witness and a repository for the unacknowledged memories of the trauma.

From left to right: A portrait of JUDY WATSON, photo by Rachel See; a portrait of RAMESH NITHIYENDRAN, photo by Anna Kucera. Courtesy Home of the Arts, Gold Coast.

Gold Coast’s USD 47 million Home of the Arts (HOTA) Gallery revealed on February 10 that it has commissioned artists Judy Watson and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran to create two large-scale outdoor installations ahead of the gallery’s May 8 opening. Brisbane-based Waanyi artist Watson, who explores Indigenous Australian histories in her installations, will create a multi-part sculptural garden acknowledging the region’s rich Aboriginal culture in collaboration with Quandamooka artists Libby Harward and Elisa Jane Carmichael. Sri Lankan-born, Sydney-based ceramic sculptor Nithiyendran will create a six-meter-high, multi-coloured mixed-media figure, his largest to date. Co-commissioned by the Melbourne Art Foundation, the work aims to challenge ideas of idolatry and monumentality in public spaces. 

MAYA LIN’s sketch for installation Ghost Forest, 2019, at New York’s Madison Square Park. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery, London / Palo Alto / Seoul / Hong Kong / Geneva / New York.

On February 9, New York’s Madison Square Park Conservancy announced that artist and environmental activist Maya Lin’s site-specific installation Ghost Forest (2021) will be on view in Manhattan from May 10 until November 14. Originally scheduled for June 2020, the commission, as part of the park’s annual public program, was postponed last year due to the spread of Covid-19. Ghost Forest complements the Conservancy’s focus this year on addressing the consequences of inaction amid a climate crisis. Visitors can traverse through a towering grove of 40 white cedar trees, which in conjunction with a soundscape composed of noises made by endangered and extinct animals once native to the area, alludes to the devastating effects of climate change.

A portrait of JASON BENJAMIN. Courtesy NandaHobbs, Sydney.

The body of Melbourne-born and Sydney-based landscape painter Jason Benjamin was retrieved by the police from Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales, on February 16. The 50-year-old artist was reported missing from the town of Carrathool days prior during the weekend. According to art dealer Ralph Hobbs, whose Sydney gallery NandaHobbs is planning an exhibition for Benjamin, the artist said that he was travelling to make some paintings for the show when they last spoke a week ago, as reported by The Guardian. Educated at New York’s Pratt Institute, Benjamin is known for his large, allegorical landscapes and his photorealistic portraits. The coroner’s report has yet to be released.

Overview of the Takashi Murakami Flower Art Gallery Room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Image via Facebook.

Takashi Murakami fans able to travel to Tokyo can now live in the famed Japanese artist’s colorful pop-art universe, by checking in to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo’s Takashi Murakami Flower Art Gallery Room. A collaboration between the hotel and the Roppongi Hills Takashi Murakami Project, the hotel package includes a minimum JPY 450,000 (USD 4,260) per night stay in the Chairman suite, now decked out with 14 commissioned Murakami artworks featuring his signature smiling flowers. Other themed services in the package include afternoon tea and dinner sets, nail art service, merchandise, among others. The offer lasts until June 1, but for those who don’t want to fork out thousands, the Roppongi Hills project includes other attractions around the neighborhood, including a 10-meter golden sculpture, Flower Parent and Child (2020), in Roku-Roku Plaza, on view until May.

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