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Contemporary Taiwanese Art in the Era of Contention Part I

Contemporary Taiwanese Art in the Era of Contention focuses on the period since 1987, when the late president of Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo, lifted nearly half a century of martial law. The period since this
historic change witnessed the most radical and contentious social and political transformations in the island’s history, and inspired a younger generation of artists, fascinated by global artistic trends, to employ new means and forms to define “their” era. Liberation of thought during this unprecedented period of openness provided a critical breakthrough and opportunities to overcome the limitations to artistic expression that characterized the martial law era. The redefinition and redistribution of Taiwan’s political and ideological map engendered interests in new subjects in Taiwanese visual culture. Many taboo topics of the past, such as ethnicity, sexuality, homosexuality, feminism, postindustrial culture, and cross-strait relations, became the foci of intense scrutiny and lively discussions among artists and the broader public. In addition, fascination with and concerns about the possibilities and limitations of technology, including the Internet, propelled a new generation of Taiwanese artists to fully participate in the larger social, cultural, and political debates.

The exhibition, curated by An-yi Pan, Cornell assistant professor of history of art, examines contemporary Taiwanese visual culture through the lenses of cultural identity and historical memory. Several factors contribute to complex issues of Taiwanese identity: the island’s status as an independent political entity, but with a profound, yet ambiguous relationship with mainland China, both historically and currently; its non-nation status in the international political arena; centuries of colonial dominance of the island, followed by nearly half a century of authoritarian rule.

At present, artistic creation in Taiwan draws upon this rich reservoir of experience to deal in compelling ways with Taiwan’s distinctive cultural characteristics and history.

The exhibition is jointly organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Major support for the exhibition and catalogue was provided by the Council for Cultural Affairs, Executive Yuan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.O.C.; the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation; and The Blakemore Foundation.

Additional support was provided by the Taipei Cultural Center, Cornell Council for the Arts, Cornell East Asia Program, Cornell Cinema, and Department of the History of Art.