Create or go hungry: The everyday creativity to be found in Asia

Kunal Sinha, regional cultural insights director at Ogilvy Asia and co-author of Raw: Pervasive Creativity in Asia, discusses the everyday creativity to be found in the region’s streets.

Asia’s economic rise saw a parallel rise in the continent’s cultural confidence. The Korean wave started sweeping the world following the popularity of Samsung and LG. The price of Chinese art began touching atmospheric heights following the success of the Olympics and the Expo, millions of kids began learning to play the piano and superstars like Lang Lang emerged on the scene. Anish Kapoor caught the fancy of Europe’s city planners and museums alike.These folks did not materialise from thin air. They emerged because Asia has a rich cultural history unlike any other part of the world. It was ordinary people who had it in them – using creativity in myriad ways to express themselves, solve problems, or stand out because competition was so tough. The conditions for creativity were present: it was just not being recognised. Especially by the marketing world. Over and over again, we were told: ‘We’re dealing with folks who have just got literate’. They have no time for creativity – in Maslow’s scheme of things, it is a higher order need, we were told. Let’s keep it simple, logical, repetitive. So while the ‘grand’ creativity was visible, it needed a Western market for gaining recognition and value. The everyday creativity was there, on the streets, but no one was really noticing it. We decided that it needed a stage. It needed the spotlight.And that’s what Raw is all about: it is a celebration of the colour and chaos on Asia’s streets, in its tiny shops and craftsperson’s homes. It is as much about a creative attitude as creative products. Raw captures the human spirit of creativity – that is everywhere. It is pervasive. But in much of the commercial world, creativity is ‘manufactured’. We decide what we want to sell, to whom, and then conjure up the environment and the most engaging way of delivering that message. We use a left-brain process to deliver right-brain outputs. And the success rate is falling!Consumers and small businesses use creativity instinctively, to survive, to thrive and to grow. They sometimes fail, but much more often, they are succeeding! The real business value of Raw lies in having the ability to not only recognise the creative ability of the Asian consumer, but in being able to unleash it. Raw: Pervasive Creativity in Asia by Kunal Sinha & David Mayo, with photography by Steffen Billhardt, thomas Billhardt & Kunal Sinha, is out now published by Clearview and priced £19.99 Expression is sometimes ephemeral: an old lady writes a poem using water calligraphy in a Chengdu park. Jesus emblazoned on a bus in the Philippines. Asians celebrate their religion; they don’t merely believe in their faith. Solving two, not one, problems through creativity. In fairness-obsessed China, an umbrella attached to a bicycle handlebar keeps the rider’s hands free to navigate chaotic traffic. In Lijiang, a café offers its walls to young Chinese people who want to express their feelings: about the charming mountain village, or a pretty person they’ve spotted in its winding lanes. As Asian cities modernise, it’s not all steel and glass. Graffiti zones from Bangkok to Shanghai to Seoul infuse colour in the new urbania.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.