Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Tokyo Art Book Fair 2023: A Kaleidoscope of Diverse Regional Issues

Art book fairs in the Asian region this year serve as mirrors reflecting the diversity of ideas thriving within each culture. Beyond being spaces for artists and independent publishers to showcase their works, the art book fairs in Asia provide a safe haven for voicing relevant issues in each region, making this annual event a unique and distinct creative experience in every location. As we approach the end of 2023, the art book fairs in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Tokyo present a variety of topics that enrich our understanding of the cultural landscape in Asia.

Scheduled to take place from December 8 to 10, 2023, at KLSCAH (Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall), the Kuala Lumpur Art Book Fair (KLABF) becomes a space for artists and independent publishers from diverse backgrounds, both local and international, to showcase visually compelling works with unique ideas and varied forms. Individual and collective artists, illustrators, writers, photographers, and designers at KLABF 2023 create printed works that narrate self-expression and daily life. One such artist is Lisa, known as ke ai de, who captures nature and living spaces around her along with human mobility in her illustrative works. On a broader scale, Penang City Eye invites readers to explore the lifestyle of Penang residents in Malaysia along with their everyday culture and history.

KLABF 2023 not only presents portrayals of daily life but also provides space for artists concerned with social, cultural, and political issues in both the Malaysian and global contexts. Literature For Cute Girls challenges gender and beauty stereotypes often overlooked and normalized by society. On the other hand, Malu Monsters offers a zine aiming to make sex education easier and more enjoyable for a wider audience. Similar to the social environment in Indonesia, Malaysia also has its limitations in discussing taboo issues, such as gender. Thus, this issue has sparked creativity among artists participating in KLABF 2023 to express themselves through their unique visual works.

Moving on to Thailand, taking place from 1–3 December, 2023, at Asia Hotel Bangkok, Bangkok Art Book Fair (BKKABF) serves as an alternative platform for artists, designers, independent publishers, and students to distribute their printed works outside of commercial bookstores in Bangkok. Initiated by STUDIO150 in collaboration with Bangkok CityCity Gallery, BKKABF, now in its seventh year, has grown significantly. This growth prompted a relocation to a larger space after years of collaboration with Bangkok CityCity Gallery. Every year, BKKABF sees an increase in regional and international enthusiasts. Programs such as presentations and discussions with speakers have become in high demand. Thus, this year, BKKABF is introducing a symposium with visual art professionals and practitioners held a day before the Art Book Fair to address concerns from visitors and exhibitors who felt the previous year's schedule for discussion sessions and shopping at the Art Book Fair clashed.

KLABF 2022

Regarding this year's theme, BKKABF is focusing on the Homeground Community, exploring the ecosystem not only in Thailand but in a broader art book community. The fair aims to gather artists with similar interests, reflecting the work of communities and collectives within the art book ecosystem. Therefore, BKKABF has invited representatives from Gudskul (Indonesia), The Book Society / mediabus (South Korea), and Namkheun Collective (Thailand), as speakers.

In terms of content and artistic exploration, Pat notes that one of BKKABF's strengths is its diverse issues reflecting the socio-political conditions and society of Thailand. Visitors to BKKABF will find printed works addressing daily life, self-expression, and the complexities of human emotions such as loneliness, love, and other personal elements. Activists and students also participate in showcasing works that speak about identity, sexuality, and politics.

"We had a chance to discuss with other art book fair directors in Southeast Asia. It was surprising feedback for us since from their point of view, the content at BKKABF is very diverse compared to other Southeast Asian countries because every country has its regulation in terms of censorship," expresses Pat.

Pat believes that art book fairs in each city are very different. Each region has its own dialogue that influences the content and artistic practices created by its community. Like in Japan, Korea, or Taipei where the art book ecology has long taken root in comparison to the fairs in Southeast Asia. This is reflected in the variety of content, creators, as well as the resources available, such as the advanced printing and binding technologies.

Talking about Japan, celebrating its 13th year, the Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) brings together 300 publishers, galleries, and artists from Japan and abroad. From November 23 to 26, the event takes place at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Notably, the TABF has been running its Guest Country program since 2015, and this year, it shines a spotlight on the rich publishing culture of five Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland.

TABF 2023 also features three art exhibitions. The first one showcases works from the Kiyosato Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by four brothers who collect contemporary art, focusing on artists like Joseph Beuys, Arnolf Reiner, and Fluxus. The second exhibition highlights selected archival works from the self-taught artist Thomas Kong, who spent his later years creating numerous collage pieces to fill his convenience store. The third one featured a boxed edition of "Artists & Photographs" (1970), widely known as Multiples, Inc.'s signature series, which includes multiples by 19 artists using photography as a medium. Multiples, Inc. itself was an art publishing company founded in 1965 by a group of five partners, including Marian Goodman.

Other highlights in TABF 2023 include presentations from Shiseido on its corporate culture magazine, Hanatsubaki; the free magazine NOT FAR produced by TOKYO DESIGN STUDIO New Balance; and Trees: Five Perspectives, a booklet created by BAUM specifically for TABF. Offered programs this year include talk shows with both national and international guest speakers, workshops for children, book signing sessions by renowned authors, and live performances by artists.

As one of the largest art events in Asia, the Tokyo Art Book Fair aims to champion and lead the culture of independent publishing, creating an ideal opportunity for visitors to enjoy the ever-evolving and dynamic world of printed works. Not surprisingly, in terms of content, TABF 2023 prioritizes the possibility of new forms and innovations in visual art and publishing that are not only regional but also international in scale. With international programs reaching European countries through Guest Country, TABF showcases its position in the Asian art and publishing scene and its support for said scene's global development.

In essence, the art book fairs in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Tokyo are not just events; they are records of the landscape of diversity in each region. These fairs go beyond being showcases of talent; they create a space for dialogue, understanding, and amplification of voices on crucial issues. Moreover, through the pages of books and printed materials, each work births interconnected ideas from one region to another.

About the Author

Alessandra Langit

Alessandra Langit is a writer with seven years of diverse media experience. She loves exploring the quirks of girlhood through her visual art and reposting Kafka’s diary entries at night.