Artists in South East Asia have always struggled with many challenges - be it stereotypes against art as profession, lack of specialised art industry in their community, or support from the government. During the pandemic, these challenges seem to mount. When the lockdown forces several venues to close, some photographers and filmmakers have no place to shoot, performers cannot rehearse, projects come to a halt.
In this new normal, many creatives will have to make adjustments against the backdrop of mobility restrictions and new market demands. But afraid not, this article will provide aspiring artists with practical tools and insights from around ASEAN to navigate both the digital and physical space in an exciting and impactful way. Welcome to the creative life you can design today!
Part 1 - Embrace the Digital space
A. Upskill with online learning platforms taught by professional creatives
At the comfort of your own home, you can learn new skills to broaden your techniques and increase the value of your work.
Take courses on Massive Open Online Learning (MOOC) platforms - Coursera, EdX, FutureLearn, Udemy, and Skillshare are some of the popular online learning platforms which offer classes in creative arts; such as photography, UX/UI design, watercolour-painting, or even inclusive chatbot design. Through the Coursera platform, the free art-concept courses provided by MOMA (Museum of Modern Arts) will bring you inside MOMA and will put you into the shoes of artists!
Some governmental or nonprofit agencies offer support for creatives - In Thailand, Creative Economy Agency (CEA) Online Academy currently offers 25 free courses to upskill and re-skill in preparation for the Future of Jobs. They include design thinking, data storytelling, digital content marketing, and brand design.
B. Capitalise on digital technology to bring art into people’s home and exhibition more interactive
Technology can bring people into art’s world, and arts into people’s homes, especially in this new normal. The innovative technology that bridges these worlds are AR (augmented reality that adds digital elements to a phone’s live view) and VR (Virtual Reality that brings the viewer into a complete immersive experience of a virtual world shut out from the physical world often using a headset). For example, through Google Arts and Culture, anyone can tour the ancient Maya temples or admire Van Gogh’s Starry Night up close. With the use of AR and 360 degree videos, the public can view artworks and cultural artifacts from over 2,000 leading museums and partner cultural organisations.
For everyone, technology has brought arts and cultural experiences to the next level. This creation helps enhance the possibilities for many creators and young artists’ potential work.
In the Kafka festival’s “Finding Kafka in Myanmar” by the Goethe Institut Myanmar have utilised VR (Virtual Reality) to present the room from “The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka” as in the view of a huge insect. The audience could wake up as a huge insect in a room and experience the artwork in a whole different view.
C. Sell artwork in online marketplace for arts and crafts products
Some artists have already started selling their artwork online whether through social media or general eCommerce platforms. There are several online marketplace specifically for arts and crafts products in which artists can easily use.
Artists can also find local online marketplace, such as in the case of Malaysia’s CRAFT La. Their slogan is ‘Let’s Make Some Craft La!’. ‘LA’ is the embodiment of Malaysia’s multi-cultural society. It is friendly, universal and an authentic way of expression among Malaysians. Through this e-commerce platform, local artisans can market and display their truly uniquely Malaysian handmade arts and crafts.
D. Actively seek opportunities to showcase your talent
Artsequator is a digital media platform which produces original articles, podcasts, videos, photo essays and illustrations from the multitude of voices in Southeast Asia. Keep an eye out for inspiration from other artists, useful resources, job postings, open calls, and grants consolidated by the Artsequator team. Check out this page for starters: Artsequator. Grants for Asian artists can also be found here: Transartist.
Part 2 - Embrace the Physical space
“I think that if everything moved to the digital place, this will change how we view and respond to art. There is art that is meant for the digital space. But there is also art that calls for a physical presence and experience.” said Angely Chi, a Filipinx filmmaker.
Sooner or later, when the lockdown restriction gradually eases and art exhibitions reopen with new measures, artists will have to find creative ways to engage with their art and viewers while maintaining health safety for all. Below are some tips to help artists navigate this obscure, novel relationship between physical space and people.
A. Find a creative space to network and create freely
Slure Project by Alternative Universe is a versatile space for exploration and experiment in Bangkok. The first floor invites the community to casually interact over a cup of coffee. ‘Anti-Gravity Space’ on the second floor is a multifunctional studio which encourages offline interaction, allowing creativity and genuine relationships to flourish.
The fundamentals of Slure Project being an offline space had of course been affected by the pandemic, but there is a silver lining. Although it is very small, the Team gives great significance to strict public safety and hygiene measures while using the food business to support other functions of Slure Project. “In a funny way, Slure Project seemed to foresee the pandemic since its beginning. The space is highly flexible, and the team's mindset had been equipped to deal with 'change' all the time. For example, in its year-and-a-half, our space had become an architectural design competition stage for 'Urban Reimagine’, a secret bar with new friends, a popular workshop space for authors, a lighting illumination experience with TimeOut magazine, a stage for the boys and girls from neighbouring school bands to show-off to the public, and a TEDx stage. We worked out in detail how the space could be utilised and bring out the best in each event, no matter how big or small. Having the courage to face change is when creativity is allowed to happen.”
When the Team was asked about the power of offline interaction in artistic creations, they responded that “Creativity doesn't just pop-up, it is sparked by interaction one way or another. It is just as simple as sharing the same environment which fosters mutual feelings - you feel more like communicating. While most conversations about this 'new normal' is physical aspects or legal regulations, we think of it more as how the generation perceives life from this incident. The situation and measures are not in our hands to authorise, rather we would keep doing what we intended to - to be a space opened for everyone to tell their stories while keeping them safe”
B. Apply for art residency programmes
Artists and other creative professionals can stay and work in foreign countries temporarily by participating in artist-in-residence programs. These opportunities offer conditions that are conducive to creativity and provide their guests with context, such as working facilities, connections, audience, etc. Interested artists can look for global opportunities in websites such as Transartists and Rimbundahan.org for ASEAN nationals.
C. Organise or participate in pop-up exhibitions
Pop-up exhibitions’ transitory and temporary nature makes it ideal for artists to showcase their work in this unpredictable period. Artbox is a pop-up flea market in Bangkok where most of the stalls are housed in recycled metal shipping containers. You will find quirky souvenirs, handmade gifts, live bands and artists, and local delicacies. Following its success, Artbox recently got a permanent location in Chuvit Garden, and expanded to Singapore and Malaysia.
Part 3 - Words of advice from fellow ASEAN artists
Physical distance abound, this article brings together perspectives from different artists across the ASEAN region who will share practical lessons from their hard-earned successes.
1) Adapt your existing equipment and skills to serve the new market demands - EJ Mijares is a freelance cinematographer and founder of Practical Videography School in the Philippines. Like many during the lockdown, his shooting projects were indefinitely postponed or cancelled. Without work, there is no income.
About a month into the lockdown, he noticed that food market is going online so he decided to offer to shoot free commercials for his Facebook network. After the success of the first six commercials, he started tinkering with the idea of commercialising his service. And that is when he launched ‘No Fuss Video Ads by EJ Mijares.’ To date, over 40 food entrepreneurs have benefited from his service.
Drawing from his experience, EJ shared an advice, “You may use your cameras, existing equipment, skills, knowledge, and talent during the pandemic. How? Shift focus to the new market or clientele. Events are shut down, and now many new entrepreneurs are trying to sell something online. Suddenly, there is a new market. Keep doing what you do best and do not wait for venues to re-open to relaunch your career. Don’t start from square one, reskilling is not always necessary. If everybody is trying to sell food or anything else, ask yourself ‘what can I do to offer them?’ Explore ways your present skill can serve during the pandemic.”
2) Use the extra time to compile your portfolio and be a force for good - Vika Fadhillah, a Visual Planner from Indonesia shared that she sees this pandemic as a valuable time for herself to explore various styles of work without having to be afraid of getting revisions from clients. “I finally had the time to tidy up and start compiling my portfolio. The good thing for me is as someone who is used to working for other people, now I have time to work on myself.”
Besides working on herself, Vika also spares time to help revive Indonesia’s tourism and F&B sectors using her artistic skills, “My friend and I took the initiative to help people who have homemade F&B businesses by offering them free advertising posters. The way we see it is achievement from art is not just about how much money we make, but also how useful our work is for others.”
3) Reach out to your local artist community for support - Shanice Stanislaus, a multi-disciplinary artist from Singapore shared how the artist community has helped her in many ways.
“In Singapore, we have a strong artist community. We’re a kind of community where if you seek out someone for help or advice, nobody will say no. In this industry, it’s about who you know. You need to reach out to people and collaborate with them. The community is a big part of why I get commissioned by other artists to do a clown show and curate ‘Tropical Arts Club’ Instagram page where we gather video content from artists all around the world and share positive messages to each other.”
Shanice also encourages other artists to adopt a growth mindset. “Right now social media is the biggest platform for artists, so it is a level playing field. It’s limiting to think that because we are in a pandemic, we cannot make money. What if it is your time and the greatest opening for you? Put your voice out there, show your talent, try out new ideas. But also know that it is okay to take a break and remember to be kind to yourself.”
3) If you are still stuck even after trying all the options, take your time, refresh yourself - Hein Htwe Maung , a young Myanmar filmmaker, responds, “I think it always comes down to your priority in difficult times of pandemic. What matters to you most? High maintenance lifestyle? Survival? Family? Your art? If you are lucky enough to be working in an art-related job that pays during these days, that's good. But it's not always the case.”
Like he says, arts is a difficult career and it became harder in this new normal but it doesn’t mean you have to take it hard. “So it's completely okay to take a step back and sort your priorities. For me personally, my physical and mental well-being are more important to me now than my innate desire for art.”
All in all, this new normal can be hard to adapt especially for art and cultural workers, but it doesn’t mean everything is bad. Take your time, do what you do the best, learn more and when you find something that really encourages you to take part, that’s your time to shine!