7 Questions for Firdy Arman on Founding the First Contemporary Asian Art Space in San Francisco

Roundcollab is currently presenting its inaugural exhibition, 'Embrace.'

Firdy Arman. Courtesy of Roundcollab Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

One of the newest and most exciting additions to the San Francisco art scene, Roundcollab Contemporary Asian Art is dedicated to giving a platform to a range of diverse and dynamic artists from Asia and the Asian diaspora. Helmed by founder Firdy Arman, the gallery’s programming aims to foster and promote cross-cultural dialogue, highlighting a diversity of styles, techniques, and perspectives.

Roundcollab’s inaugural exhibition, called “Embrace” (on view through December 23 at Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco), features the work of eleven artists: Takdanai Kungsavarangkul, Siriroj Kotwongsa, Made Wahyu Senayadi, Donnapa Phurphangam, Diana Puspita Putri, Mathus Kaewdam, Yangdol Namgyal, Pratchaya Charernsook, Kadek Marta Dwipayana, Leonard Yang, and Satya Cipta.

We caught up with Arman to learn more about what inspired him to establish Roundcollab, and what went into the creation of the gallery’s first exhibition.

Donnapa Phurphangam, Peony of Life (2021). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

Can you tell us about your background, and what led you to found Roundcollab?

I was born and grew up in Singapore and completed a visual arts foundation program at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore) before graduating with a B.A. (First Class Honors) in arts management. I worked at a local dance company, the Arts Fission Company, National Arts Council (Singapore), and the Asia-Europe Foundation before moving to the U.K. for a graduate degree in business at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I then worked as a business management consultant for over ten years in London and New York City.

I founded Roundcollab in August 2023 as a hybrid-online art gallery, and we are currently the only one in San Francisco solely focusing on contemporary Asian art from a vast continent, as well as the Asian diaspora in the U.S. and worldwide.

Over the years, I have accumulated and developed relationships with artists and arts organizations across Asia and have seen how the contemporary arts scene has become more and more dynamic, innovative, and daring.

Tapping into that network, I wanted to personally invest in the most interesting contemporary Asian artists who have yet to be introduced to the U.S. and international art market. Through Roundcollab, I hope to create a broader audience for their incredible work, especially emerging and established artists whose works have yet to be shown outside their home countries.

Mathus Kaewdam, Ego (2023). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

How would you describe the gallery’s mission or ethos?

We represent diverse voices in the most current visual art practice from a vast and fast-evolving region.

As a commercial gallery, our ambitious programming offers unique Asian perspectives into some of today’s most pressing socio-economic and environmental issues. We hope to play a meaningful role in facilitating artistic inquiry and dialogue between artists, collectors, and audiences.

The name Roundcollab reflects the collaborative, inclusive, and holistic approach to making a difference in the communities around us. We see ourselves as a partner with all to improve the societal impact, transparency, and equity of the fine art market globally.

How does the city of San Francisco, where the gallery is based, influence or inform how you will approach your exhibition program?

San Francisco has a population where over 30 percent of its people are of Asian descent. While there are many Asian artists being represented by galleries here, there isn’t a commercial gallery dedicated to representing contemporary art from this community, my community. We are now here and proud to represent Asian voices and aesthetics from a contemporary art point of view. California has a long and ongoing history of migration from Asia—from railway workers to tech start-up workers. Likewise, Roundcollab sees itself as part of the flow of cultural exchange across the Pacific Ocean.

Pratchaya Charernsook, Sairee Beach (2023). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

Can you tell us about what’s in store with the gallery’s inaugural exhibition, “Embrace”?

“Embrace” features the work of some of the finest artists from Thailand and Indonesia, as well as Singapore and India.

Many of them have won prestigious contemporary art competitions, including Pratchaya Charernsook, who was awarded the UOB Painting of the Year prize for Southeast Asia and Thailand this year (2023). Her winning series, entitled “Sairee Beach,” uses salvaged marine microplastics (from her hometown beach in Southern Thailand) as material for her minimalist and abstract installations on two-dimensional media that are made from organic materials such as canvas, clay, sand, and paper. This profoundly highlights the imminent dangers of plastic waste, the health of our seas and ocean, and the macabre notion of how deeply entrenched we are in our own waste.

Kadek Marta Dwipayana, Ronta (2019). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

Satya Cipta is a Balinese musician, theater-maker, spiritual healer, and self-taught painter who researches about the ancient Majapahit empire, Hindu mythology, and feminism to express her strong views about female sexuality, the empowerment of women, and critique of the dominant patriarchal society she lives in. Her works are provocative—even in a Western context—and I believe offer a unique and important expression for women in Indonesian art today.

There are so many other artists who are equally impressive whose works are being exhibited at “Embrace,” and I wish there was more space and time here to discuss them all.

From a curatorial standpoint, what went into choosing which artists and what artworks to feature?

I started by looking for diverse types of artists and artworks from the Asian contemporary arts scene that had yet to receive much, if any, exposure in the U.S. I wanted to present strong voices that address the most important issues the world is facing today.

It is a diverse collection, but there is a single thread—“Embrace” is our debut gallery exhibition and features the eleven artists who are embracing the imperfect world they live in, and are responding through their art. These issues include environmental sustainability (Pratchaya Charernsook), the mental health crisis (Kadek Marta Dwipayana), gender equality and women’s empowerment (Satya Cipta), and unseen disabilities (Made Wahyu Senayadi), among others.

Leonard Yang, Old Houses No. 2 (2018). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

What do you want visitors of the show to take away with them?

That on the other side of the world there are diverse narratives and forms of expression through art that address issues we all have in common, but in very distinct ways.

And for them to realize that they are some of the first in the U.S. to see these artworks as examples of the most current contemporary art practices from a fast-evolving Asian community.

Looking to the future, are there any gallery plans or hopes that you can share with us?

There are several other programs and events that are in the works, including the San Francisco Art Fair in Spring 2024.

I am also working on an exhibition of older and new works by Turaj Ebrahimi, a Persian American artist in his eighties living and working in San Francisco.

Roundcollab is also in discussions with potential partners to present an exhibition about Queer Asian Pride in conjunction with San Francisco Pride Month celebrations in June 2024.

Diana Puspita Putri, Adaptation no. 2 (2022). Courtesy of Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art, San Francisco.

Roundcollab. Contemporary Asian Art’s “Embrace” is on view at on view through December 23, 2023, at Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco.

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