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Guggenheim Museum exhibit looks at nation building

Curator June Yap stands in front of a

Curator June Yap stands in front of a mural called Places of Rebirth by artist Navin Rawanchaikul at a preview of the " Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative." ( Feb. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Crossing borders, conquering and building new nations and morphing cultures are the themes explored in a new Guggenheim Museum exhibition that examines the political and cultural fallout from nationalism across the globe.

"No Country: Contemporary Art for South and South East Asia," which opens Friday, is the first in a series of installations of contemporary art work that will examine nation-building around the world. The other regions that will later be exhibited are Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.

These are all regions greatly affected by conflict and colonialism -- nations whose borders have shifted or have been erased, said curator June Yap, who assembled the works of 22 artists from New Delhi, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The exhibit "mirrors the experience of South and Southeast Asia,'' said Yap of Singapore. "This is a history of migration and what we have today."

The exhibit reminds the viewer that many contemporary nations did not always exist, Yap said. "This is problematic when we identify as a nation because they can be conquered or partitioned."

Yap said the creation of Bangladesh, first a British colony and later separated from Pakistan after a bloody war in early 1970s, is a clear example of how international borders and national identities are blurred.

The exhibit "challenges us to think deeper on how nations are created. Nations can create barriers and keep us from helping each other,'' she said.

Artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen who immigrated with his family to the United States from Vietnam in 1979, made a wood carving out of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat depicting Vietnam's famous monument of a Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who in 1963 set himself aflame to protest the regime's repression against Buddhism.

Another piece illustrates how national pride can be superficial -- "The Boy Who Got Tired of Posing" by Bani Abidi of Karachi, Pakistan.

Abidi pokes fun at his country's tradition of having studio photographs taken of children dressed in costumes of the nation's war heroes by paid photographers.

Studio photographs show a child mocking the solemn tradition with funny faces and bored expressions. One photo shows a child's foot running out of the frame, leaving behind his costume and his hero's sword.

The exhibit which runs through May 22 also includes a series of eight films that explore the ramifications of nationalism, religious conflict and divisive political ideology.

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