Interview by Hannah Jo Uy
As a gallerist with strong experience navigating the Southeast Asian art scene through your gallery, One East Asia, can you comment on the nature of the progress you have seen within the Philippine art scene over the past few years?
Komala: In terms of market realization, “domestically” that is, modern and contemporary Philippine art has made phenomenal progress for the past four years. Prices of many artists have quadrupled, if not more. Manila art market is having the longest boom that Southeast Asia has ever experienced. Although market correction has kicked in, the boom continues. If it was a hurricane, then it would be a category 5 hurricane.
Outside the Philippines, however, this category 5 hurricane has been reduced to a category 2. So what would quadruple in Manila would only be less than double in terms of price if the sale was to be held overseas. In short, Filipino artists, galleries, dealers, and collectors will make a lot more money domestically. Hence only a handful of Filipino galleries are adventurous enough to join art fairs abroad. And if they do, they primarily join those held in the region. We hardly see, let alone consistently, Filipino galleries taking on the two top capital cities in the West: London and New York.
One East Asia, on the other hand, strongly feels that as long as Southeast Asia’s modern and contemporary art is unable to make a strong following in the West, Southeast Asia will never be taken seriously internationally. For this very reason, we have been focusing our expansion in the past six years in London than anywhere else. We bring the best of the region and present it to academics, collectors, and other art enthusiasts in London, the capital city of art in Europe.
What do you find particular distinctive among Filipino artists that set them apart from other artists in Southeast Asia?
Howe: Filipino artists possess high technical skill. Human figures are dominant in their works. But what makes these artworks Filipino is the romantic and religious contents, be it blissful or tragic.
The gallery is currently showcasing an exhibition by Welbart and Jayson Cortez, entitled ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Can you tell us a little bit more about the show?
Howe: The show “Beautiful Mind,” which opened last Sept. 25, is a perfect example of what makes a Filipino piece Filipino. Both artists, Welbart and Jason, are incredibly skillful in rendering human anatomy. They both speak romantically about life and love in their works. We expect Singapore to respond enthusiastically to works by Welbart and Jason Cortez.
You mentioned that the gallery is also setting its eyes toward nurturing the London market, as evidenced by its current participation in START Art Fair 2017, showcasing the works in Saatchi Gallery.
One East Asia will be featuring the works of Filipino artist Andres Barrioquinto alongside Malaysian artists Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Chan Kok Hooi, Chang Fee Ming, and Chong Siew Ying—all of whom are notable figurative artists.
How does the gallery set about developing a show that can capture the consciousness and complexity of Southeast Asian artists? In your opinion, does it help cultivate international attention to social, political, and cultural issues Asian societies’ are facing? Can you comment on how the works were received by London audiences?
Howe: Our shows in London so far have been somewhat like a series of movies that promote the rich diversity of art and culture in Southeast Asia. Through the works of the artists we try to provide windows to the many faces of Southeast Asia’s cultures, and yet connected with a history of colonization and struggle for independence.
Our recent “sell out” show at START, Saatchi Gallery London 2017, for instance, reflects that all participating artists are linked by their use of human form to express a range of themes related to changing cultural and social norms as well as political events in their countries: Malaysia and the Philippines.
We have produced educational catalogs for all exhibitions we have held in London in order to cultivate curiosity about Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art among Westerners. As a result, the number of Western collectors who buy art at our exhibitions have steadily increased over the years. On the academic side, better recognition has been gained. The gallery is proud to have our chairman, Daniel Komala, invited as one of the speakers for a panel discussion at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, this coming November.
One East Asia is a Singapore-based gallery and art management organization dedicated to enriching the appreciation of Southeast Asian Art globally through exhibitions in Singapore and London, international art fairs and not-for-profit education events. Located in Singapore’s iconic retail belt, Orchard Road, One East Asia provides new avenues for cultural programming, collaboration, art advisory and partnerships with both the public and private sectors.