Artistic freedom of expression and mobility promoted in Lao PDR

Artistic freedom of expression and mobility promoted in Lao PDR

‘Networking and collaboration are the strategic tool arts practitioners use to navigate and survive complex, challenging and sometimes hostile working conditions.’ That was one of the highlights featured in the 2018 Global Report ‘Re│shaping Cultural Policies: Advancing creativity for development’, launched on 10 November in Vientiane, Lao PDR, as part of the inaugural ELEVATION LAOS SYMPOSIUM.

More than 70 artists, culture professionals, students, members of diplomatic delegations and other interested residents of Vientiane came together to hear presentations by 13 participating ELEVATION LAOS artists, and to discuss artistic creation and freedom of expression in each of their contexts.

Speaking at the event, Duong Bich Hanh, Chief of the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Office in Bangkok, presented key findings from the report, which identified progress achieved as well as challenges in implementing objectives set out by the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The 2018 Global Report highlighted the efforts made by many civil society initiatives, which have been launched to support artistic production and distribution, as well as the structuring and professionalization of the arts and culture sectors. Many initiatives have been established at the regional level, facilitating networking and collaboration opportunities. These regional initiatives have resulted in mobility funds, networks, touring platforms, biennials, music and art fairs, residency and presentation spaces, training programmes, and cultural policy groups.

The number of mobility opportunities provided through market access and transnational cultural collaboration has increased, with a renewed interest in South-South mobility. The report also acknowledged that practitioners in the South are also working more with their ‘local peers’ to find solutions to shared problems, to strengthen transnational collaborations including networking platforms and capacity building opportunities.

Installation view of the exhibition Depths, with works by Tcheu Siong (right), Anne Samat (center), and Guo-Liang Tan (back and left). Image courtesy Elevations Laos.

The 2018 Global Report was launched in Lao PDR to coincide with the launch of ELEVATIONS LAOS │ EXHIBITION AND ART PRIZE, founded by the Spellbrook Foundation and co-funded by Spellbrook and the Australian Government through the Australian Embassy in Laos’ Direct Aid Program. This non-profit initiative aims to support and stimulate the development of contemporary art and emerging artists in Laos. It will be achieved by providing contemporary art forums and events that encourage and facilitate the mobility of artists to and from Laos and the surrounding region and beyond.

The 2018 inaugural exhibition, open until 16 January 2019, features artists from Laos, including members of the Lao and Hmong ethnic groups, as well as from Cambodia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Viet Nam. The exhibition was inspired by the first inclusion of Lao artists in the (9th) Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia.

Bounpaul Phothyzan. Dove House, 2018. 
Cluster bomb shells, wood, earth. Variable dimensions. 
Artwork courtesy the artist. 
Image courtesy Elevations Laos. 

The exhibition also includes the symposium and a series of public programmes. STELLA, a cultural organization that UNESCO has supported to establish and operate over the past two years, as part of the project ‘Strengthening networking and knowledge management systems for cultural industries in Lao PDR’, served as a local partner for the ELEVATIONS LAOS.

‘Initiatives like ELEVATION LAOS are very meaningful to us in a way that they address the core principles of the UNESCO 2005 Convention to promote opportunities for creation, distribution and exchanges among artists in this sub-region,’ Dr Hanh said. ‘They also highlight the role artists and art practitioners can play to support and advocate for freedom of artistic movement and mobility worldwide, addressing the gaps between institutional legal frameworks, policies and the realities on the ground.’

‘The 2018 Global Report helps us to situate our ELEVATION LAOS initiative within a broader picture at the global level,’ said Erin Gleeson, Artistic Director and curator of the exhibition. ‘The launch of the report in the beginning of the symposium also helped to set out the tone of the discussion to follow, where speakers shared about their artistic practice and personal experiences without fear of censorship.’

The Government of Lao PDR recently submitted for the first time a periodic report on the country’s implementation of the 2005 Convention. A national consultation will take place at the end of November to discuss an action plan for the upcoming four years, before the next report is due.


Main photo caption: Souliya Phoumivong. Video still from Flow, 2018. Single-channel video, color, sound. 8 minutes 50 seconds. Artwork courtesy the artist. Image courtesy Elevations Laos.