As history tells us, when societal restrictions are loosened and mores challenged, creativity and artistic communities begin to flourish. In recent years Taipei - a glaring ommision in our Asian art cities article - has become an increasingly liberal jewel in the South China sea: 2017 saw the government pass legislation to legalise same-sex marriage, which came into effect in May 2019, whilst October saw 200,000 people march in the first pride parade since - sadly the work of our very own Helen Beard wasn’t co-opted by the Taiwanese with the same fervour as those in Brighton, as far as we know…
So, as the second instalment of Taiwan’s new contemporary art fair ‘Taipei Dangdai’ takes place and the Taiwanese market continues to grow, we take a look at some of the artists who are at the vanguard of the scene.
Mister Ogay (b.1986)
Alex Face, 2015, spray paint on wall
As evidenced by our love of Mr Jago, Unit London is always keen to discover street artists, especially as they begin to think about moving indoors. Mister Ogay made such a move a few years ago and has continued to produce interesting work, maintaining his status as Taiwan’s most revered street artist. A self proclaimed angry young man filled with love, Ogay critiques Taiwanese society with a tongue shoved firmly into a grotesque cheek: naked figures lie in strange positions, physical embodiments of power and corruption, they gorge on all manner of unthinkables.
John Yuyi (b. 1991)
Gucci Project, 2017, photograph
As we've mentioned previously, John Yuyi is a Taiwanese visual artist who lives and works in Taipei. She focuses on the shortcomings of millennial culture: particularly how our increasingly digital existences fuel body anxiety. Observing that people often use themselves as a starting point for a divergent social media persona, Yuyi uses her own body as a canvas for temporary tattoos that resemble digital avatars and icons - these are then posted to her 200,000 followers. The products that she sells go beyond the product itself, they are symbols and documentations of her artistic actions.
Tse-Hsuan Chang (b. 1992)
The youngest artist on our list, Tse-Hsuan Chang is a captivating painter concerned with Chinese globalisation and expansionism. Given President Xi’s obstinate desire to reclaim Taiwan as part of China, there are high levels of anxiety in the country that naturally filters into politicised art. Tse-Hsuan Chang’s oil and acrylic on canvas paintings have a collage-like quality, his landscapes are segmented, as if pieced together and thus take on the appearance of a map, or a satellite image of disputed land. These tumultuous pastoral settings also allude to Chinese urbanisation, a salient issue considered by many contemporary Chinese and Taiwanese artists, not least Unit London’s Zhuang Hong YI.
Yu Cheng-Ta (b. 1983)
Yu Cheng-Ta is primarily a video artist who forms one half of the ‘Watermelon Sisters’: a duo who seek to deconstruct aesthetic and political notions entwined with gender, race and language. With such weighty concerns you’d be forgiven for thinking the work is severe, dense and challenging. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Put simply, Cheng Ta’s work is a delight: he has created a vibrant and heavily eccentric persona that takes very real, very serious issues in Taiwanese and global culture, but addresses them with unadulterated joy. This is perhaps best evinced in his work-come-rap Watermelon Love in which the pair, dressed in drag, agree to “spread a message of love beyond borders” and subsequently ride scooters festooned in rainbow lights round their oneiric, absurdist world, replete with suggestive watermelons.