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April 14, 2012 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Where is the art world now?

I'm applying for a travel writing fellowship that would require me to spend at least 10 weeks in a foreign country (I'm American, so anywhere outside the USA) writing longform creative nonfiction centered around social, political, and cultural issues in said country.

My focus as a (prose nonfiction) writer is on the arts.

If you could go ANYWHERE in the world to write about art, where would be the most exciting place to do it RIGHT NOW?

I'm also interested in places with indigenous folk/craft scenes that haven't been completely tapped out by the wider media already. For example I'm not sure there's much else to say about Mongolian throat singing.

While there's a stipend involved, I would be footing the bill for most of my three month stay abroad. Which takes places like Zurich or Dubai off the table.

There is no visa support as far as I know; otherwise I'd be making a beeline for Iran.

Language barrier is somewhat of an issue. My work would require me to meet, develop connections, and interview local artists (and would probably not fund a full-time translator). I speak reasonably OK Spanish and French, and I know that in places like Berlin or Amsterdam, this is not really going to be a thing since the people I'll be meeting will be well-educated cosmopolitan types who'll probably speak some English. But I probably can't go to Laos and start interviewing Hmong weavers or something like that.

Korea, Cambodia, Poland, and a lot of Latin America have been heavily represented among previous winners of the fellowship, enough to make them tapped out unless someone has a killer angle for me.

The fellowship would require me to travel between August and December. Based on my personal schedule, I'm most likely looking to do this from October - December. So anything that hinges on a festival (Edinburgh Fringe, Festival au Desert, the Venice Biennale) is out.
posted by Sara C. to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ghana? Nigeria? Senegal? There seem to be vibrant art scenes in all three countries, including traditional arts, modern art, and modern art riffing on traditional arts (El Anatsui is well-known internationally, of course, but my Nigerian and Ghanaian friends say there are hundreds of equally ground-breaking artists re-envisioning traditional art forms who aren't known outside of Africa yet).
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:45 PM on April 14, 2012

posted by bradbane at 7:21 PM on April 14, 2012

Based on a lot of your requirements, you might want to look into India. It's cheap as far as living expenses go, it'll be sunny and warm but not unbearable during October-December, and almost all people will speak a degree of English, while most you'll talk to (any professionals) will be fluent.

That sound, I know little about the arts scene in India (although I did take a class there specifically on art in 2008, erm, but it was pretty significantly historical) so I'd recommend you do some research. But it's a rapidly changing country grappling with plenty of serious issues, so I'm sure there's plenty of fertile ground. Maybe there's a fascinating underground arts scene in Mumbai or Bangalore! With a big social justice focus!

Also, lots of affordable yoga to relax you before writing, and oh yeah THE FOOD.
posted by aintthattheway at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2012

(...and by "that sound" I meant "that said" -- the arts are mixin' up in muh brain.)
posted by aintthattheway at 7:39 PM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: Re China - Ummmm, China's a big country. Any specific place I should be looking? I don't want to plan 3 a three month stay in Shanghai only to find out that all the interesting stuff is going on across the country in Chengdu. I also have not insignificant worries about falling in with a politically incorrect crowd and getting into trouble with the government. (I have some friends who can never go back to Vietnam because they struck up friendships with the wrong sorts of artists - and they weren't explicitly there to cover the local art scene, they just got chatty in a cafe while on vacation.)

Re West Africa - Very intriguing.

India - Mumbai is on my short-list already (along with Berlin, Istanbul, and maybe Amsterdam or somewhere else in the Netherlands).

Re the fellowship in general - the writing doesn't have to be social justice focused. Sorry if there's confusion about that. I'm personally not that interested in direct political stuff (Ai Wei Wei, for example).
posted by Sara C. at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2012

Japan. Hong Kong. Israel.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:16 PM on April 14, 2012

My daughter spent last year in Istanbul and said that the art scene is very exciting. Turkey has some great traditional artists outside of Istanbul, too. It is a very affordable country, and you could always hop over into Bulgaria, where there is a lot of traditional music and craft by Pomaks in the Rhodope mountain region.
posted by Isadorady at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2012

Ghana Ghana Ghana.
posted by purpleclover at 10:28 PM on April 14, 2012

If you're looking for a lot of art... as in a vibrant contemporary art scene with accompanying galleries and artists working in numerous mediums, I might look into Tokyo or Seoul.
posted by joinks at 11:10 PM on April 14, 2012

I don't know anything about Ghana. I'm intrigued.

I'm not in a position to make a recommendation, but here's a cool video about modern Japanese art:

Anyone else got some media? A picture's a thousand words...
posted by victory_laser at 2:19 AM on April 15, 2012

seconding Istanbul-- you will have a wide variety of exciting contemporary art and easily leave the city to explore traditional crafts all throughout Turkey.
posted by catrae at 2:31 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might look into Mali. Timbuktu and all that. Seems to be settling down after the semi-coup. French.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:04 AM on April 15, 2012

Brazil is spending a lot of money to turn itself into an international art haven, shipping in artists and holding big shows, but Instanbul is probobly more interesting from a ground up perspective.
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 AM on April 15, 2012

I agree with Brazil. Brazil is having an explosion of artistic life. i don't know if Brazil is experiencing an explosion of working artists like what's going on in Mumbai and Beijing, but it's at least in terms of viewing art and participating in cultural life.
posted by savvysearch at 8:46 AM on April 15, 2012

I used to study Latin American art, albeit almost 20 years ago, Still if you are looking for a totally new scene, in the sense of hasn't had a major internationally recognized art scene/artists before, then I'm not sure if Brazil would qualify. The Sao Paulo Biennial began in the 50s; the second oldest art biennial in the world (Venice is the oldest0. There are several internationally recognized Brazilian artists including Cildo Miereles, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and more recently Jac Leirner and Vik Muniz. There are others that I've forgotten and I presume that there are more contemporary Brazilian artists that have come up that I've missed since I'm no longer involved in the art world. I'm not saying that Brazil wouldn't be a great place to go or disputing that they may currently be enjoying another period of "an explosion of artistic life." I'm just saying that it's really not anything "new" in the sense that there has been a vibrant art scene there since the 50s, if not earlier.

I'd add that the Berlin art scene also has been pretty well covered and is probably at it's nadir (I'm just spit-balling, but I imagine that it's become of victim of its popularity and has gotten too expensive for unknown or up-and-coming artists, although quite a few well-known artists maintain studios there).

However, I have read that Istanbul has a growing contemporary arts scene; new contemporary galleries spouting up, that kind of thing. But I don't have first hand knowledge.

Good luck!
posted by kaybdc at 4:29 PM on April 15, 2012

I think there's a story in Berlin. My friend visited there recently, and said it was thriving with this East meets West thing going on (as a result of the wall coming down). And now there's a whole generation growing up post-Cold War, and how that causes generational conflict and bridging.

Really interesting article I read in the New Yorker two years ago about how Dresden's attitudes toward the Holocaust are totally different than West German cities, and so that culture clash might be interesting. Especially since we may one day see North and South Korea unifying, and then find out that the schism has created whole new dialects and ways of thinking, and the re-unification is easier said than done.

Or follow Al Weiwei in Bejing. Everybody seems interested right now in China's evolving cultural consciousness in the wake of their economic boom. (not to say they weren't culturally conscious before).
posted by philosophistry at 12:23 AM on April 16, 2012

Response by poster: Re Istanbul in general: I actually just got back from there! And spent a TON of time checking out the contemporary art scene. There are lots of galleries and new art museums springing up. That said, I didn't find much in the way of ground-level We Are Artists Making Our Work type stuff happening, and when I talked to Turkish people about Istanbul's place as a new center of the art world, non of them seemed to know anything about it. Whereas I'm pretty sure that if you'd asked someone in Berlin in 2000 where the artists were, they'd at least have known there was art stuff going on around town. I'm definitely interested in a return visit after a lot more research about who I should be meeting and where I should be looking.

My friend visited there recently, and said it was thriving with this East meets West thing going on (as a result of the wall coming down).

How recently? Berlin was the place all my artist friends wanted to be 5-10 years ago, but like kaybdc says, my gut feeling is that it's not what it used to be.

That said, I've heard interesting things in the same vein about Leipzig, and Dresden is also maybe worth a thought.
posted by Sara C. at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2012

Aboriginal Australia. Many, many social, political, and cultural issues. Massive clash of cultures.
posted by inkypinky at 7:57 AM on April 19, 2012

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