Art has always been a way to document and negotiate socio-political phenomena. Southeast Asia is a region that has, over the past century alone, gone through numerous transformations, captured in the work of its modern and contemporary artists. Here, Metis takes a look at five artists whose works interrogate social, political and environmental issues, on scales both public and private, within the region.

Painting with history (the moon is a camera, smile at it, let the Hunger Games begin)

Korakrit Arunanondchai
Metallic foil on burnt bleached denim, inkjet print on canvas
218.4 x 162.6 cm
Kukje Gallery

Image courtesy of Kukje Gallery.

“When something burns,” Arunanondchai has said, “it becomes something else.” Central to this painting is an encompassing flame, with fire being a material that has long interested the artist. The painting is suffused with the sense of rupture that allows for transformation, and is inspired by Thailand’s student protestors.

The Imbroglio Tropical Paradise

Zico Albaiquni
Oil, synthetic polymer paint and giclée on canvas
120 x 80 cm

Image courtesy of QAGOMA.

Albaiquni’s work often seeks to subvert the Mooi Indie (beautiful Indies) genre of painting, which expressed romanticised scenes of Indonesian life under Dutch colonial rule. Albaiquni’s intriguing palettes and manipulations of perspective culminates in a body of work that causes viewers to pause and ruminate, leaving them with questions that linger long afterwards.

Inverted Sewer

Meas Sokhorn

Image courtesy of Chhin Taing Chhea.

Meas “Inverted Sewer” series explores Cambodia’s class conflict and power imbalances through traffic troubles. The ubiquitousness of traffic is highlighted through Meas’ bold use of colour and thoughtful composition, forcing the viewer to pause over questions, figures and practices that might otherwise go unnoticed in the thrum of daily life.


European Mask

Pacita Abad
Acrylic paint, silkscreen and thread on canvas
260.7 x 182.7 cm
Pacita Abad Art Estate

Image courtesy of Pacita Abad Art Estate.

Abad’s visual language was informed by the complexity of cultural traditions throughout the Global South. She sought to push back against Western hierarchies through her work and was noted for her exploration of issues facing contemporary society, not just in the Philippines (which she had to flee at one point due to her activism against the Marcos regime) but also globally.


Kayu Betimbau

Anniketyni Madian
Mix of hardwood
152 x 152 cm

Image courtesy of the artist.

Anniketyni’s stunning sculptures bring together her Iban heritage and material exploration to provide commentary on the evolution of Sarawakian heritage and the role of women in society. Highly-symbolic and visually arresting, Anniketyni’s works are moving on both visual and conceptual levels. 

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