Next Wave Festival Review – The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

By Angus Baird
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As part of the 2012 Next Wave Festival, Abdul Abdullah, Casey Ayres and Nathan Beard built a fictitious imperial embassy at the NGV Studio, which drew on the unrealised geopolitical ambitions of Japan in World War II.

The ‘embassy’ sought to tackle contemporary issues of Australian society with humour and political parody.

The empire on which the embassy was based would have encompassed all of East Asia, and be known as the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’. This concept has been broadened by the artists, to include West Asia, the Oceania region, India and the Middle East. The ‘embassy’ sought to tackle contemporary issues of Australian society with humour and political parody.

Through the use of performers, guest speakers and the artists themselves also taking on a performative role, the intention was to convince viewers of fictional embassy and empire. The illusionary embassy was an emblem of multicultural discourse. It investigated both individual identity and that of a whole Eurasian generation, outlining and taking part in what co-ethnic identity means within a globalised Australia.

The exhibition was comprised of two elements. Firstly the space itself: every inch had been ripped from the cold modern grip of the NGV and adorned with shrines, portraits of Generals, video games, installations depicting Eurasian celebrities and politicians, and faux letters to and from world leaders. The effect was a cross-Asian exoticism. The most notable piece was the three ‘gold’ thrones upon which the ambassadors sat in golden tailored suits, crowned, central and up high, facing into the thoroughfare of the NGV.

The show required its viewers to look past the seeming aggrandisement of hierarchy and imperialism and into the realities of cultural identity, nationalism and contemporary society.

The second element of the show was the ‘Official Cultural Program of the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’, a week-long calendar filled with several events per day. There was an inauguration by the ambassadors’ spiritual mentor, neo-Confucian Professor Mook Gwa, traditional elements such as tea ceremonies, calligraphy and dance, as well as more contemporary activities like Wii sports, family slide shows and table tennis.

The events were what made this installation shine, spilling out of the embassy and using all of the space of the NGV and Federation Square.  Rather than just being a benign and static exhibition, it placed an onus upon those who came across its spectacles, of putting the pieces together to see the intentions of the artists. The show required its viewers to look past the seeming aggrandisement of hierarchy and imperialism and into the realities of cultural identity, nationalism and contemporary society.

The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere ran as part of the Next Wave Festival from 18-27 May 2012.

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