By Isla Phillips for Fukuoka Now
Over the last year, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) has undergone renovations, making it an even greater asset to the city’s museum and art scenes.
Image courtesy of Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
FAAM is a pioneering and innovative hub for exchange, research, and education. Its collection consists entirely of Asian art, featuring 23 countries and regions in East, Southeast and South Asia, from the 19th century to the present day. It is the only museum in the world to systematically collect and exhibit Asian modern and contemporary art, as of 2019 boasting over 2,900 pieces. Thanks to the forward-thinking acquisition activity from the 1970s, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum’s modern and contemporary Asian art collection has achieved a level of uniqueness incomparable to any other in the world.
Liu Rong-Feng, “Harvesting in Manchuria” 1930, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Other museums of course feature Asian art, but in conjunction with Western art and often presenting Asian artworks in a relatively rigid framework of “Fine Art.” In contrast, FAAM tries to reconsider these definitions and so collects all kinds of modern Asian artworks alongside traditional art, which is essential to contextual discussions of modern and contemporary Asian art. Their policies ensure that the collection covers a representative stream of Asian art from the modern to the contemporary period and includes popular, ethnic, and folk art as well as mainstream pieces. Recent acquisitions include pieces such as Liu Rong-Feng’s (China/Japan) “Harvesting in Manchuria,” a 1930 oil painting from the colonial period depicting the harvesting of Kaoliang with a rainbow, a symbol of hope, hanging in the sky. The typical Manchurian landscape and symbolism imply the idea of “Odorakudo” (the land of paradise), which was an ideology upon which the foundation of Manchuria (1932) rested upon. The carefully diverse collection policy is so that the museum can contribute to reconsiderations of the definition of “Fine Arts,” as well as champion Asian art.
Historically, Fukuoka has been a gateway between Korea and China, and in the late 1980s, the city government started making plans to ensure that the city might continue to be a cultural hub in Asia. The first significant event that worked towards this goal was the 1989 “Asian-Pacific Exposition – Encounters with the new world,” which was popularly known as “Yokatopia” and attracted 8,230,000 visitors from over 79 countries. The following year, “The First Asian Art Show” was also held in the city, featuring 103 artists from 15 Asian countries. These events created the chance for the Kyushu region, and Fukuoka City particularly to strengthen its ties with other Asian countries. They also laid the foundations for subsequent pan-Asian art exhibitions in the city and, ultimately, the inauguration of FAAM on March 6, 1999.
Lin Tianmiao, “Spawn #3” 2001, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
FAAM’s expansive permanent collection is selectively displayed in the Asia Art Gallery, with pieces being rotated at least four times a year. The works are presented thematically and are shown in a way that highlights their artistic sensitivity and originality. For example, currently (August 2018) visitors can see the incredible work “Spawn #3” (2001) as part of a section exploring women. Lin Tianmiao’s (China) large installation is an enlarged photograph of the artist after giving birth to her child. The portrait on cotton shows her nude and hairless body as she gazes assuredly out into the gallery. The shaved appearance deliberately blurs gender lines, and her confident full-frontal pose toys with Asian gender stereotyping that usually depicts weak and demure females. Meanwhile, hundreds of balls of yarn stream out from the portrait. In varying sizes, they spread into the gallery while also being attached to the body. These orbs of yarn and their attaching strings of thread both represent the eggs ovulated by a woman during her lifetime and also the social burdens that bind women during pregnancy and when raising children. The technique of winding thread around an object, until it is completely covered, is a theme amongst her work. She calls this “thread winding,” and it was born out of her childhood memory, helping her mother sew clothes for her family while growing up in Shanxi Province, China. This piece sits beside other works exploring the female experience, such as Aisha Kalid’s (Pakistan) “Birth of Venus” (2001), which explores the position of Muslim women in society and the burqa.
Image from exhibition “Muscle Games – Bodies in Asian Art” Jun. 27 ~ Sep. 24, 2019, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
In addition to showing works from their permanent collection in the excellently curated sections of the Asian Art Gallery, FAAM constantly introduces works from different genres, regions and eras through timely temporary exhibitions, such as the current “Muscle Games – Bodies in Asian Art” (Jun. 27 to Sep. 24, 2019) which is coinciding with the 2019 Rugby World Cup. This exhibition includes Chinese propaganda posters, Bangladeshi rickshaw paintings, and Taiwanese photography.
The themes for each exhibition are generated by on-site reach, and special exhibitions always feature pieces by at least one artist from each country. All exhibitions are curated by the erudite team of FAAM curators, who conduct extensive research across Asia so that the pieces displayed are placed in their proper and local context.
Behind the scenes, the museum is even more impressive. The on- and off-site research is complemented by extensive archiving and an ambitious acquisition program. This means that FAAM is internationally recognized as a research hub for Asian art, with scholars and artists traveling from across the globe to access their library as well as their video and images archive. Their recent research is regularly presented in both exhibitions and lectures, and the archive is accessible to local people and specialists alike based on advance requests.
Cheong Kiet Cheng, “The Recording of Dragon Shrine” 2019, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Since opening, the museum has annually hosted resident artists from all across Asia. Han Sungpil, FAAM’s most recent artist in residence, has achieved over 18 solo exhibitions and is featured in Permanent Collections in five museums across the world. Sungpil creates art mainly using photography, moving images, and installations to support and example topics such as environmental issues and our relationships with reality. In Fukuoka, his work will be displayed at Tochoji Temple in the fall, bringing in natural landscapes from local mountains to the city temple. This demonstrates how the Residence Program, which cultivates interaction and exchange within Asian art, also benefits Fukuoka itself. The artists present various events, such as open studios, workshops, performances, and lectures, while creating new artworks during their stay. The original artworks often take inspiration from the city and its local history. Recent artist in residence, Cheong Kiet Cheng (Malaysia) visited temples around Hakata and based her work on local folklore, such as the tale of the giant mermaid, whose bones are housed in Ryuguji Temple.
Many of FAAM’s artists in residence have been very famous within Asia and have gone on to become notable names in the international art scene, such as one of the very first Artists in Residence (1999) Nalini Malani (India), who is internationally acclaimed and a leading figure in Asian art. You can see some of Malani’s work in the Fukuoka Prize exhibition (Jul. 1 to Sep. 24, 2019) and also in the upcoming Anniversary exhibition (Oct. 5 to Nov. 26, 2019).
Through the Residence Program, FAAM establishes cooperative networks between Asian artists, researchers, and specialists, both locally and across Asia. You can see the fruits of past programs in the display located at the end of the Asia Art Gallery, which features not only artworks but also catalogs to peruse and a video reel of all the past artists to dip into.
Bu Hua, “The Best Has Already Come” 2018, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Photograph by Shintaro Yamanaka (Qsyum!).
Collaboration and connections, both across Asia and locally, are vitally important, and this is apparent from the moment you arrive at FAAM. The museum is on the seventh and eighth floors of Hakata Riverain and the ground floor entrance features a new mural by Beijing-born digital artist, Bu Hua. Using Flash animation and digitally processed painting works, she has created a dynamic universe in which her feisty “inner child” appears and won herself international recognition. She participated in the 2014 Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale and created “The Best Has Already Come” especially for FAAM in 2018, working with 24 Fukuoka-based artists and art students. The mural which welcomes visitors to the museum features many local touches, such as images of tonkotsu ramen, Fukuoka Tower, and a Hakata Gion Yamakasa kazariyama. Pictures from the mural decorate the elevators up to the museum, and you can even buy limited edition, cute, Hakata ningyo dolls of the characters as a souvenir from the museum’s shop and cafe.
Photograph by Shintaro Yamanaka (Qsyum!).
The cafe and accompanying library are free for the public to use and were renovated last year, at the same time the mural was created. The library has over 10,000 books, and the material in the cafe’s living bookshelf is regularly rotated, featuring books on Asia, art, and travel. New books are added with each exhibition and event and from the diligent collection of catalogs from other museums all across Asia. Alongside these resources, the museum is powered by a 300-strong force of knowledgeable volunteers, who can help visitors understand and feel close to the works from the permanent collection, or assist you with finding information in the library. FAAM also publishes a free newspaper each month that often features information about the museum’s upcoming events and even its artworks.
The new Art Cafe is a fantastic space to relax, read or study. It’s a space designed to welcome everyone, from hard-working local high school students to foreign visitors who are sightseeing. You can try the museum’s very own unique blend, “Asian Wings,” by Fukuoka’s own Iena Coffee, or enjoy one of the delicious vegan cakes on offer. There are plenty of comfy spots to choose between, from sofas to hanging chairs and snuggle-seats. There’s a children’s area too, featuring very many cuddly frogs.
Panya Vijinthanasarn, “The Journey of the Soul” 2001, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
The open-plan space connects the cafe to the library and is very bright and airy. It’s under the glowing auspices of “The Journey of the Soul” by Thai artist Panya Vijinthanasarn, a piece that is part of the museum’s permanent collection. Vijinthanasarn studied traditional Buddhist mural painting at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, and his art is representative of the conventional painting style that emerged in 1980s Thailand. He is known for his numerous murals, which are located all across the world and often connect traditional Buddhist imagery with contemporary issues. The grand-scale painting at FAAM depicts the Buddhist world-view; we see two universes floating under the gaze of a graceful Buddha, whose magnificent golden face uplifts the cafe space. While the overall impression of the painting invites tranquility and meditation, its details are more serious, with the chaotic world, to the left of the Pure World, said to be a reflection on the 9/11 terror attacks. Vinjinthanasarn provokes questions about Buddhist teachings on reincarnation and karma. It’s a fantastic example of how the artworks in FAAM’s collection are not just vitally important to the study of Asian art, but also invite viewers to consider some of the most critical contemporary issues that face the world.
Image courtesy of Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
FAAM’S upcoming anniversary exhibition celebrates the museum’s 20th birthday. “Journey through Asian Art” (Oct. 5 to Nov. 26, 2019) is the largest collection exhibition that FAAM has ever hosted – it will use the entire 7th floor of the museum. Visitors will be able to travel between different regions of Asia and learn about the historical developments of art history according to region. Each section of the exhibition has spaces to sit and read, and you can even see materials from FAAM research trips.
The museum’s opening hours changed in July, and now the gallery is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm, with late closing (8 pm) on Fridays and Saturdays. Last admission is half an hour before closing. FAAM is located right in between Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station and Hakata train Station. It’s conveniently close to other sightseeing spots such as the beautiful temples in Hakata old town. Be sure to stop by and explore some Asian art – and there is no need to worry if you have luggage because new large size lockers are now available, and wheelchairs and buggies are also available from reception.
Fukuoka Asian Art Museum
• 7~8F Hakata Riverain
• 3-1 Shimokawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
• Open: Museum 9:30~19:30, Gallery 9:30~18:00 (last entry 17:30), Sat. & Sun. 9:30~20:00
• Closed: Wed. (open if hol. and closed the next day)
• Free entry
• Asia Gallery: adult ¥200, HS & college ¥150, JHS and under free