Asia Project

Asia 2011 – Artist Statement – Larry Cwik

Vist the Asia Photograph Gallery

While the 18th and 19th centuries could likely be called the European centuries, and the 20th century the North American (or American century), the 21st century is likely to be the Asian century. Asia has 60% of of the world’s population and two of the three larges economies in the world.

Having not visited Asia since 1981, it was a joy to go back thirty years later, in 2011. Much of the work I photographed commented on the dueling trends I observed there between commerce and spirituality.

Commerce is everywhere. Spirituality is too. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are the three largest religions in Asia. A devotional with candles is in one image. A symbolized Ganesha is in another, symbolizing Hinduism. Commerce is represented in several of the photographs, from the cottage industries of fishing nets and rickshaw transportation in Bangladesh to sleek ultra-modern office towers in Qatar.

The growing importance of Asia’s population to the globe is represented by a photographs of a schoolboy. Billions of Asia’s peoples are under 30 years old. The wonderful contributions of Asia to world science, history, and culture are represented by a photograph from a still-preserved 17th-century astronomy observatory in India. The tension between historic political systems and the yearning for freedom and opportunity is represented by a photograph of posters of famous Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, currently under house arrest.

Asia of course has many countries. There are wide contrasts in its peoples and cultures. I only visited five of Asia’s countries. This is just a small snippet. But, it was rich in experience and wonder.

Here are a few country-specific observations:

Bangladesh: independent since 1971, it is one of the world’s newest nations. I followed the independence struggle of Bangladesh as a boy in the 1970s. Bangladesh, despite having a per capita GDP of $544 per person, is now tapped by Goldman Sachs as one of the next eleven nations to be a rapidly developing major power, and join the four BRIC powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. It is home of the 10th largest mosque in the world – with capacity for 30,000 people. It is also home to the Ganges River, locally known as the Padma River. The Ganges is believed to be an embodiment of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi, the many-armed goddess of light, wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, has 400,000 rickshaws. Bangladesh’s 190 million people live in a land area 40% smaller than that of the state of Oregon. Although initially wary of venturing out by myself in Bangladesh to explore and photograph, I ended up enjoying it very much. I grew to appreciate Bangladesh’s warm people, delicious food, vibrant culture, and beautiful scenes. I visited the Ganges/Padma River town of Maowa, and crossed the very wide river.

Bangladesh: independent since 1971, it is one of the world’s newest nations. I followed the independence struggle of Bangladesh as a boy in the 1970s. Bangladesh, despite having a per capita GDP of $544 per person, is now tapped by Goldman Sachs as one of the next eleven nations to be a rapidly developing major power, and join the four BRIC powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. It is home of the 10th largest mosque in the world – with capacity for 30,000 people. It is also home to the Ganges River, locally known as the Padma River. The Ganges is believed to be an embodiment of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi, the many-armed goddess of light, wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

Qatar: the richest country in the world, with a GDP per capita of $190,000 per person, is a petro-dollar economy that is embracing a new future, despite limited arable land and water resources within its boundaries. Everywhere more modern, futuristic, skyscrapers are being built. Some are reminiscent of transformer sets or Lego creations.

Others are ultra-smooth. Qatar is playing a large role in world affairs considering its size. This is reflected in its ambitious and ongoing $12 billion development of a new international airport.

Hong Kong: still has some tension with the government of Beijing, in control of Hong Kong since its return to China by the U.K in 1997.

This is shown in one of the images enclosed, with many posters of dissident Ai Weiwei. Hong Kong is a cacophony of sights and sounds, and sensory overload, a mishmash of East and West, that is a wonder to behold and worth visiting by all.

Nepal: a smorgasbord of cultures with very prominent Buddhist influence, reflected in several of the pictures. The beauty there is stunning. I visited three different cities and did some trekking in the Annapurna region, which was trying but wonderful.

India: busy, chaotic, and colorful, with people everywhere, and its many contributions to world history, culture, and science evident.

The images in this project reflect the spirit of the places I visited and photographed. I have honed trying to capture each of the five different places I visited in Asia through using my experience working 30 years photographing Mexico. Asia enchanted me with its smells, sounds, customs, peoples, and sights. Asia will become increasingly important in the coming years and decades.

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