Claire Holt, an American art scholar, began her research in Indonesia in the second-half of 1930s, and has ever since been considered an important figure in the historiography of Indonesian visual and performing art. Her book, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, contains a chronology that outlines the development of art in Indonesian society since the prehistoric era up to the 1950's. My research proposes a re-examination and analysis of documents and archives held at Cornell University, USA. It aims to map the historical contexts when she was researching Indonesia, notably amidst the global political tension in which the Cold War played big roles in disguising and determining the national direction of culture following the fall of the Indonesian Leftist art and cultural activist after 1965.
My research will map networks of artistic and cultural exchange between and within individuals and institutions across Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the contemporary era. Through this topic, I want to examine the patterns of encounter and interaction that have influenced the politics of friendship and the economy of collaboration inside the practice of modern and contemporary art in the region. How did the idea of solidarity emerged through the practice of arts and culture? What are the social and political backgrounds that shape the geo-political and geo-cultural perspective of SEA's identity as a region?
Vietnamese Art between the years 1945 and 1990 can be divided into two main periods. The period 1945-1974 is characterized by reflections on two wars against the French and the Americans. The period 1975-1990 is characterized by reflections on a new life in Việt Nam after the war. Paintings from both periods stand out because of one shared characterization, optimism. This paper answers the question of why optimistic themes were represented in lieu of the hard realities of war and rebuilding. By clarifying the characterization "optimism", the research contributes to clarify more about painting in Hanoi 1945-1990 and Vietnamese modern art.
This project re-examines modern Thai architecture that was built during 1958 and 1973. Beyond the notion of style and Euro-American-centric historiography, it aims to re-conceptualise the subject matter in the contexts of military dictatorship, revival of the monarchy, national economic plans, the Vietnam War, and the US support in Thailand. To do so, it will consult not only archival materials directly related to the architecture and its architects but also public and private accounts, the mass media, and contemporary films and literature, to demonstrate how architecture was created and received by Thai society at the time and how socio-political conditions of the society were manifested through forms, space and production of architecture.
Surrealist or ‘Sur’ painting, which emerged in Thailand in the 1970s, is a well-researched area in Thai art history. Yet no studies currently exist regarding the articulation of Surrealist themes and techniques in photographic practices. By the late 1960s, Surrealism emerged as an alternative to the Pictorial style that dominated the Royal Thai Photographic Society. Photographic montage and visual puns lent themselves well to the representation of Buddhist themes, particularly the idea of dharmic truth. Surrealism also became an attempt to negate photography’s ‘truth’ function, which had precluded the medium’s inclusion in artistic discourses. As such, this study will also reveal the problematic relationship between photography and artistic modernism in a Southeast Asian context.
The research frames memory as bedrock of art history, and invokes both its bodily and cognitive senses alongside the search for what might be constituted as primary source material. To invoke memories of the making and/or experiencing of work that has since largely disappeared into recesses thought out of reach of traditional art history, the search method proposed here borrows from the journalist’s skill set—poking into both artists’ personal archive and oral narratives to craft accounts of site-specific work from the period bookended by the 70s and 80s which were not subjected to the hyper-documentary mode that contemporary practice presently bears the weight of.
This research is geared towards the Loke Wan Tho Collection deposited in the National Library of Australia. Amongst his diversified interests and concerns, Loke was a prolific and important art collector, photographer and art patron during the formative years of Malaysia. This is an attempt to conduct an investigation on the collection consisting of printed materials, maps, photographs, manuscripts and personal papers. The inquiry of his wide-ranging interests and the shaping of his ideals and deliberations would provide insight and new perspectives pertinent to the research of modern Malayan/Malaysian art seen through the lens and contributions of Loke Wan Tho.
The post-1964 censorship regime in Myanmar shaped the development of Burmese modern art, imposing limitations on artists’ channels of expression but also driving them to develop a new artistic vocabulary that is crucial to the understanding of modern Burmese visual art. The military regime maintained its grip on artistic expression under an ambiguously worded and unevenly applied legal code regulating art exhibitions and a bureaucracy of censors. What were the opposing interpretations of national identity as expressed by painter and censor during the Socialist period? My research will document censored paintings alongside the mechanics of censorship in Myanmar and the experiences of artists and Censorship Board officials.
This project is developed from an ongoing project at Asia Art Archive on Hong Kong Art History Research. Throughout the 1960s, a group of Hong Kong artists repeatedly showed at the Luz Gallery in Manila and then the City Hall Art Gallery and Museum in Hong Kong. Many then took part in a large-scale exhibition on contemporary Hong Kong art at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in 1982. These moments formed part of a larger picture within Hong Kong’s “international” art ecology, alongside other avenues of international exchange including Rockefeller grants, participation in Sao Paolo biennale, and exhibitions traveling from overseas. While each were stringed to their respective agendas amidst Cold War politics, colonialism, and nation-building, these moments of realigning global coordinates were developed in ways that can present a different understanding of what constituted regional categories such as Southeast Asian Art. Using this Hong Kong-Manila connection as a starting point, this project proposes to use international modes of exchange as a lens to examine the national, institutional, individual, and commercial forces at work across geographies that instantiated such regional alliances and their cultural impact.
In February 1955, the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Asia met in Rangoon – two months before the Bandung Conference. Between 1948 and 1962 Burma existed free as a parliamentary democracy. Creative conscience and the freedom of expression fashioned by the ideals of the new government were intricately linked. Artists were responding en masse all over the country, to establish a unified identity through artistic expression. What were their tools to bring traditional art and craft back to life after decolonization, while integrating them with modern art practice? How were they effected by the optimistic uncertainty of the times?
This project investigates the nexus of the post-independence Cambodian arts, US state foreign policy, and US corporations. The project’s focus is Cambodian painter Nhek Dim (1934-78), who studied in Phnom Penh (1949-54), the Philippines (1957), and at the Walt Disney Company, United States (1963-67). The project considers ways in which US foreign policy objectives were articulated in the cultural realm, and negotiated in Nhek’s practice. Nhek was one of several Cambodian artists who received US training sponsored by the United States Information Service (USIS), which was active throughout Southeast Asia during the period. Archival research on Nhek hopes to illuminate larger impacts of US state and corporate influence in Cambodia and the region.
This project examines Nanyang University’s (1955-1980) architecture and landscape as an attempt to create a Chinese cultural topography and social memory in the Nanyang/South Sea. Ling Qingni’s 1957 painting ‘Scenery of Nanyang University’ serves as a point of departure for my research. This will also allow me to explore an inflection of the Nanyang as a Chinese/Southeast Asian imaginary different from either the social realist or the Nanyang style. My research will also compare NU to the CUHK (1963 - present). Both universities occupy a marginal site in relation to the city center and their English-language university counterparts. Unlike the hybrid design of NU’s main library, which adopted the Chinese-style flying roof, many of CUHK’s earlier structures were built in the Brutalist and International style. A close comparative reading will allow me to examine the divergent intellectual discourses and aspirations shaping Chinese cultural modernity outside of China.
During the Cold War, Thailand played a crucial role in the blocking of communist gains in the region. Whereas abstraction served as a form of expression for the public memorial of the anti-communist camp, traditionalism contributed largely to the Thai memorial practice. This research intends to investigate an interconnection between traditionalism, abstraction and forms of public memorials in the Cold War memorials in Tak, Petchabun, Payao and Ubon Ratchathani. It will discuss how modern war commemoration and the nationalisation of death constituted those who sacrificed their lives fighting the communist as the national heroes.
Taking a cue from Prince Norodoum Sihanouk’s, Charisma and Leadership (1995; Bernard Krisher, trans.), this project investigates an understanding of the cultural through the non-alignment movement in the wake of the Bandung 1955 Conference as a pivotal point in the articulation of Southeast Asia. The book’s author describes an understanding of the volume’s eponymous virtues through discussions of various world leaders associated with the problematic ends of social reform as well as celebrated figures of socialism, including Mao, Tito, Nehru, Enver Hodja and Nikolae Ceausescu. Although Cold War solidarity led to a non-centrist articulation of the global South, this was not without its problems, as leaders of these nation-states, although celebrated for their resistance, could also be critiqued for questionable tactics employed in pursuing nationalist agendas. As a starting point, subjectivities within Charisma and Leadership can be read as symbolic examples of political alignment through cultural affinity and connection through shared or overlapping political positions. What ramifications did this have on visual culture, artistic production and it’s subsequent positionality?
This research project aims to take a new perspective on the analysis of Indonesian art history between 1970 and 1990. It seeks to demonstrate that following the 1965 – 1966 anti-communist killings many Indonesian artists displayed a new visual sensibility touched by trauma as a result of the killings. Using the notion of affect as framework, the research will look at archives and selected art works from abstract paintings to avant-garde works with a focus on Bandung and possibly Yogyakarta during the period above as a representation of traumatic haunting.
Adjunct Associate Professor
National University of Singapore, Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University
Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism
University of Philippines
Art Historian and Senior Lecturer,
School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia
National Gallery Singapore
Lecturer, Bandung Institute of Technology,
This project will be led by Professor Mark Ledbury, Professor Adrian Vickers, and Dr. Stephen Whiteman. Professor John Clark will provide key strategic consultancy and field leadership expertise.