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Elle Decor Italia

Top 10 art spaces in South-east Asia

A selection of art venues in South-east Asia showing the East was never so vibrant and creative


The Guardian has recently reviewed a bunch of highly promising cultural hubs in South-east Asia. Despite the pressure of numerous human rights movements and associations promoting freedom of expression, many artists keep being controlled through censorship. That’s why the following selection of art venues proves to be a list of inclusive platforms and a fertile ground for discussion, provided that all art speaks the same language. Also, plenty of artist in residence programmes are being offered and up for grab for creatives coming from any corner of the world.

The first independent art centre in Singapore, The Substation (photo above) opened back in 1990 within the premises of a former electricity substation. Apart from hosting local artists of the likes of Alvin Tan, Goh Boon Teck, Amanda Heng, Lee Wen and Kok Heng Leun, The Substation has been staging plenty of exhibitions and shows ever since, while benefitting from its adjoined theatre. A mix of punk visual codes and democratic ideology, the cafe regularly features live music shows and weekly classrooms for gifted talents. 

Battambang, one of Cambodia’s most buzzed-about art capitals, is home to Romcheick 5, an art gallery founded by four artists in their early twenties back in 2012, in the name of a shared love for art and personal history of violence. After being expelled from Thailand, where they used to be exploited as child labourers, they eventually managed to persuade a French investor to help them money-wise. They now stage modern surrealist artworks and host several artists in residence, while supporting the centre itself through the promotion of original works on both a national and international level. Romcheick 5 is also going to crate a permanent museum of modern art on the same site aimed to highlight visual artists from rural Battambang, which openly clash with Phnom Penh’s more conceptual and commercial stream of production.

First inaugurated in 2012, Manzi is (playfully) named after Man di, the Vietnamese word for barbaric, or free: a multidisciplinary hub that promotes creativity in all its forms, it is housed inside a 1920’s colonial villa crammed with eccentric art installations. The cafe space stands at the core of the project and boasts an extensive agenda of talks, workshops, poetry readings, film screenings and live music shows. A hybrid formula in-between non-profit and for-profit, the centre supports its activities by selling art and design products. 

Space for artists in residence in Thailand, Ne’-Na is an actual heaven for creatives. With two separate headquarters – one in Chiang Mai, the other set in a natural location – Ne’-Na is the go-to place if looking for assistance on local artisan techniques and avant-garde art projects. Born from the collaboration between Thai and Sweden artists, the institution encourages cultural and disciplinary exchanges with a truly exciting environment

Hin Bus Depot is an artistic hub located inside a dismissed bus barn in George Town, Malaysia. The 1940’s Art Deco building kicked off with much celebrated Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s first solo show, and was such a huge success that a wild bunch of creatives decided to keep up the good work. Nowadays, the space hosts loads of initiatives ranging from artistic performances, exhibitions and temporary shows.

Set in Yogyakarta on the island of Java, Cemeti is Indonesia’s oldest platform for contemporary arts. Driven by the aim of promoting and preserving the local contemporary art scene, Cemeti is still tirelessly growing: original founders Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma have left room for a younger board, while Dutch design team Collective Works has re-shaped the public halls and gardens where art residences, talks and workshops regularly take place. With a keen eye for social reflection and commentary, the centre promotes prestigious artistic exhibitions and performances. 

Located in Ho Chi Minh City, The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre is Vietnam’s first purpose-built art space. A factory of ideas as well as an ever-changing platform, it was first opened in 2016 by artist Ti-A whose goal was to encourage the local artistic community to implement, experiment with and promote fresh new projects. Designed by HTA + Pizzini Architects, The Factory stretches over a 500 square-metre area and features a large outdoor zone and cafe serving locally sourced ingredients. 

First it was a room in an Art Kids Academy, then a garage with adjoined bedroom, and lastly an ex timber warehouse in the middle of Bangkok: Tentacles has definitely come a long way, and currently sponsors an artist in residency programme addressed to under-35 y.o. contemporary visual artists willing to break previously untouched ground. Together with 7 additional partners, N22 is an art platform hosting exhibitions, seminars and shared projects, and also a must-see spot to better understand the country’s artistic status quo.

Located in Manila, Philippines, 98B is an art space, communal kitchen, library etc. – in other words, an actual community. Ranging from talks to bazars, art shows and expos, this multidisciplinary lab is set to provide fertile ground for artists, film makers and musicians in search for original collaborations. Founded by Mark Salivates and Mayumi Hirano back in 2012, 98B spreads inside a stunning 1928’s Art Deco six-storey building. 

Yangon, Burma, guards quite a hidden gem: a mix of young artists and well-established masters of the likes of Aung Mint, whose works are on show at the New York Guggenheim, Myanm throws visitors right in the most pioneering avant-garde. A free art gallery and library sharing the same philosophy: too much talent is going wasted for the lack of space for freedom and expression… Moreover, the centre offers meet-the-artist talks and book launches to allow visitors to expand their horizons. 










by Stefano Annovazzi Lodi / 23 November 2017


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