They gaze at you, the fashionably-attired youths of Esfahan, from a distance of 300 years. Swaying like cypress trees, their tresses floating in the air like clouds, their faces surrounded by peach fuzz, they smile like the Gioconda and with more mystery. Who are these young men and what do they say to the viewers? After the lucidity of the great 16th-century Persian and Mughal painters like Behzad and Sultan Mohammad, who painted kingly battles and hunts, the 17th century brings us the works of Reza Abbasi and Mohammad Qasem, and their ambivalent but sexually-charged portraits of young men and occasionally young women.

The repercussions of Western imperialism have impacted modern society in countless ways. From politics to language to art, is it clear that people are still grappling with how to address the conflicts stemming from increased globalization and colonialism (primarily that of Europeans and Americans) from the 16th century onwards. 

One would hardly know there had been a pandemic in 2020 if one went by auction results in the contemporary art market. According to the 2020 Global Contemporary Art Market report, the top 10 artists by turnover sold 1530 pieces for a total of almost a half-billion US$. While down a bit from 2019, the price index has hardly budged over the last five year; the 2020 result is all the more remarkable given that international auction houses had to postpone or cancel most of their plans for spring auctions.

In children’s literature and in young adult fiction, food is often used to bridge cultures—“dumplings are the great social equaliser” says the protagonist in the YA novel The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling as an example. And while food might be one of the easier entries into a culture, there are other ways too. Art, for example, which Singapore’s National Gallery does with success in its “Awesome Art” series. 

Japanese art was a breath of fresh air to the citizens of 19th-century France, whose country was being overwhelmed with rapid modernization and industrialism. The focus on individual craftsmanship and quality stood in stark contrast with mass production, and the simple utilitarian designs were the antithesis of perceived contrivances in European schools of art. Japanese aesthetics quickly permeated all aspects of popular culture, from fashion to theatre to home decor, and assembling collections of Japanese imports became a common pastime for the wealthy elite. This enthusiastic reception and emulation of Japanese art was called japonisme.

In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.