Mikala Tai is the Director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and a curator, researcher and academic specialising in contemporary Asian art and Australian design. Over the past decade, she has collaborated with local, national and international organisations to strengthen ties between Australia and Asia – working on various curatorial and cultural projects such as Supergraph, Australia’s Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in Melbourne, and working on the project teams for the Melbourne Fashion Festival and Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria.

As an academic, Mikala has taught at both RMIT and the University of Melbourne, in addition to having devised and delivered the inaugural Contemporary Asian Art syllabus at RMIT and the first China Fieldwork Course at the University of Melbourne. In early 2015, Mikala submitted her PhD at UNSW Art & Design examining the influence of the Global City on China’s local art infrastructure.


ou have spearheaded a great number of projects and exhibitions, from organising the inaugural Contemporary Asian Art syllabus at RMIT in Melbourne, to founding Supergraph – Australia’s Contemporary Graphic Art Fair, to your current position as Director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Is there an achievement that you are most proud of and why?

I am always in love with the next project I am doing. While as proud as I am of past work there is something much more exciting and active about the process of constructing your next project. We opened a show a few days ago and already I feel that the thinking process behind it is so long ago and now we are deep in the conceptualisation of our next few projects.

Your PhD at UNSW examined the global and local forces behind the distinct art infrastructures in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Were there any particular themes which emerged which really struck you and have stayed with you?

I think what really emerged from this research that there are no themes. I am interested in not looking to connect things and how if you begin from that kind of perspective – where you have to actively try and stop yourself from making links – you actually enable your research and then your understanding to emerge from what is in front of you. It is actually really hard to not connect things, or compare things but it does allow you to carve out an understanding that is led by the place you are rather than the expectations you may have.


In your view, who are the most important and influential Asian-Australian artists right now, both emerging and established?

I don’t think there is just a few. The visibility of Asian-Australian artists began in the mid 1990s with the arrival of Pauline Hanson (part 1) when they joined together to form 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art as a public space that celebrated Asian-Australian contributions to Australian culture. I have been really fascinated and impressed by Australian artists of Asian descent who, with the return of Hanson, have actively sought to be visible and vocal allies for her new targets.

“I am always in love with the next project I am doing (…) there is something much more exciting and active about the process of constructing your next project.”

Photography courtesy of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Before the Rain – Curated by Mikala Tai and featuring: Luke Ching, Liu Ding, Yuan Goang-Ming, James Kong, Tang Kwok Hin, Sarah Lai, Swing Lam, Ellen Pau and Sampson Wong.


here seems to be a great number of contemporary Asian artists creating highly politicised art, holding up a mirror to issues such as urbanisation, censorship, climate change and rural to urban migration. Did you see a trend towards this kind of ‘protest’ art when you researched your thesis, and if so, why do you think this is?

My thesis was not really directly concerned with ‘protest’ art per se and I’m not really sure that ‘protest’ art is really a trend but more of a condition. Creativity is part of human nature and I think in circumstances that people find themselves constrained, threatened or challenged they will respond in creative ways. Often such tensions funnel creativity into the production of art, of a sustained artistic movement and many times it creates ephemeral artistic moments. We live in this era of the post-truth politician who are divisive but at least they are catalysts of creativity.

You clearly have a comprehensive knowledge of the creative economies of cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. Are there any initiatives that you would like to see Australia adopt to bolster our creative sector?

Our sectors are just so different. In Australia we are lucky to have extensive government support while in China this is just not the case. But, in spite of that, the art scene continues to develop. So perhaps here we can take heart that even if funding does dwindle the art scene won’t be extinguished.

“Creativity is part of human nature and I think in circumstances that people find themselves constrained, threatened or challenged they will respond in creative ways.”

Briony Galligan, Door-to-Door (detail), 2015, teak hands made by Yogyakarta wood carver Pak Lejar based on sketches completed together of Queen Elizabeth I’s hands in The Rainbow Portrait c. 1600 and his own hands, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Mikala Tai and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

How can Australia forge better cross-cultural ties with Asia’s artistic hubs?

I think it is less about engaging with ‘hubs’ per se but being open to engaging with complexities. It is easy to collaborate with like-minds but it is much more interesting, challenging and rewarding to forge collaborations that need to be built from the ground up.

What does 2017 hold for you?

I’m excited about 2017. We have a solid program of exhibitions that see us working with new collaborations and investigating new ideas. We are presenting work in Melbourne for AsiaTOPA, travelling a show to PICA in Perth and presenting five performance artists in Hong Kong. We are also doing extensive research this year in India, the UAE, China, Korea and Taiwan and will be sending artists and writers into the region for residencies in the second half of the year. Exciting work.


Favourite Book? don’t think I could name just one. But current book is, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” but Mohammad Hanif

Favourite film? My favourite recent film would be Lion.

Favourite band / musician? Alabama Shakes

If you weren’t a curator, what would you be? Probably working with textiles. I love a good print!

If you could change one thing about the world today, what would it be?  I would want people to be curious about each other rather that afraid.