The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) is, arguably, the largest art event that represents contemporary art from the Asia Pacific region.

APT9 is the flagship exhibition series in Brisbane, Australia, helmed by the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery Of Modern Art (QAGOMA).

Both galleries are a stone’s throw away from each other, with the Gallery Of Modern Art hosting most of the works.

APT9 features 400 artworks by over 80 individuals, collectives and groups from all across Asia, the Pacific and Australia. The sheer scale and scope of it is audacious, ambitious and stimulating, to say the least.

The ATP has come a long way since its inception 25 years ago. It is a celebration of diversity, plurality and the rich cultures and artistic techniques and approaches employed by the participating artists.

“The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art is truly about telling the incredible stories of the places that we come from,” says Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s Arts Minister, at the APT9’s launch event at the Gallery Of Modern Art last month.

APT9 will run till April 28, 2019.

“This particular exhibition contains stories which are heartfelt, unexpected and audacious. They remind us of the common ground that we share and the diversity that makes the world so wonderful,” she adds.

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Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi’s Rite For A Dream – Today My Empire Sings (three-channel video installation, 2016).

Interestingly, for an art event of this scale, there is no one theme dictating the direction of the exhibition.

“This is crucial since an exhibition like the APT9 needs to be positioned in a way that speaks to a lot of people,” says Reuben Keehan, QAGOMA’s contemporary Asian art curator.

That’s the sense a visitor gets as you step into the galleries.

The cavernous spaces at QAGOMA feature works that include videos, installations, mixed media, photographs, embroidery, sculptures and paintings. They are as varied as the artists who created them.

Be mesmerised by Iranian-born artist Iman Raad’s riotously colourful mural and embroidered velvet banners referencing Persian miniature painting, Iranian folk art and Pakistani truck painting.

Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee’s Aftermath (mixed media, concrete and paint, 2016).

Confront the social and environmental concerns of Laos with Laotian artist Bounpaul Phothyzan’s Lie Of The Land installation, which features old bombshells that have been transformed into hanging fern planters. The provocative and poetic works convey the ugly truth of a country that, unfortunately, is still dealing with the destructive impact of someone else’s conflict.

The Malaysian entry for APT9 is none other than the Sabah Tanah Airku diptych by Sabah-based community art collective Pangrok Sulap.

The massive artwork (measuring 2.5m x 3.5m), occupying an entire wall on the ground floor of the Queensland Art Gallery, stirred a scene in KL last year when Sabah Tanah Airku (Version 2), which was showing at the APW Bangsar – as part of the Escape From The SEA exhibition – was taken down by the exhibition organisers due to a public complaint, which alleged it was too provocative.

Just two months ago, the artwork was finally displayed in its intended diptych format at the A+ Works Of Art gallery in KL as part of the collective’s Lopung Is Dead! exhibition.

Keehan says the Sabah Tanah Airku works represent “two very different aspects of Sabah”.

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Pangrok Sulap’s Sabah Tanah Airku (Part B) (woodcut, offset ink on block-out blind, 2017).

“Sabah Tanah Airku (Version 1) depicts the wonderful things of Sabah. There’s a lot of detail on local elements, especially from the Ranau community, and indigenous motifs. There’s a lot of joy,” says Keehan.

Conversely, Version 2 shows the darker, less talked-about side of the state.

“There are many details that include Sabahan problems like illegal logging, persistent flooding, corruption and piracy. The idea of having a diptych is to show a nightmare of Sabah and a dream of Sabah,” explains Keehan.

Elsewhere, explore the politics of Japanese nationalism and the role of the emperor in Japanese society with Japanese performance and video artist Meiro Koizumi’s Rite For A Dream – Today My Empire Sings, a three-channel video installation.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

China’s Qiu Zhijie’s Map Of Technological Ethics is a giant hand-rendered map on Gallery Of Modern Art’s Long Gallery Wall, which outlines an archipelago of technology-related moral quandaries.

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Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane plays co-host to the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Photo: Tourism And Events Queensland

This monumental site-specific work, commissioned for APT9, is an imagined geography of islands, seas and continents, each named after contentious issues such as abortion, euthanasia and genetic identification cards.

Sitting down and looking at this massive Chinese calligraphic and map-making feat does make the neck strain. Perhaps, the masterful Qiu wants the sheer enormity of these dilemmas to weigh down the viewer.

Also unique to this APT is the specially commissioned Women’s Wealth project which seeks to give a voice to female artists from the predominantly matrilineal societies of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the nearby provinces of the Solomon Islands.

This project, which commenced with a workshop last September, brings together artists, weavers, and potters from Bougainville and the Solomon Islands, people with much in common but divided by political boundaries.

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A detail of Iman Raad’s work Days Of Bliss And Woe (acrylic on plywood and wood, 2018).

“Women’s Wealth is just one of the many examples of how APT9 opens new artistic horizons and connects us to a wealth of stories,” says Enoch.

APT9 also includes eight interactive projects developed for children and families in APT9 Kids, regionally focused cinema programmes such as New Bollywood: Currents In Indian Cinema and Microwave Films Of The Marshall Islands and a public programme of artist talks, tours, discussions, performances and drop-in workshops.

Ultimately, the APT9 offers its audience a breathtaking visual treat as it attempts to deconstruct the world that we live in today through the lens of the artists.

“APT9’s expression of ideas and experiences through contemporary art reaches out beyond the walls of the gallery and Brisbane,” says Enoch.


The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial Of Contemporary Art is on at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery Of Modern Art, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, till April 28, 2019. Visit: qagoma.qld.gov.au. This trip was made possible by Tourism And Events Queensland.