Workshop Report: Histories of Art and Art as History in Contemporary Southeast Asia

by Wulandani Dirgantoro

 

The Workshop on „Histories of Art and Art as History in Contemporary Southeast Asia“ was convened by Wulandani Dirgantoro (Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices Fellow 2016/2017). It  took place on April 20, 2017 at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin with participation of Kevin Chua (Texas Tech University, USA), Pamela Nguyen Corey (SOAS University of London, UK) and Amanda Katherine Rath (Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany).

The workshop came out of a discussion with Dr Pamela Corey in November 2016 at SOAS, University of London where I was invited to share my research project as Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices Fellow 2016/17. During a post-seminar dinner over spicy Szechuan food, we discussed the possibility of organising a workshop in Berlin on Southeast Asian art histories.

We invited Dr Amanda Rath from Goethe-Universtaet, Frankfurt and Dr Kevin Chua from Texas Tech University, who happened to be in Berlin for the 2 oder 3 Tigers show at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, to be a part of the workshop that we scheduled for Thursday, 20th April 2017 at the Forum Transregionale Studien.

Production still from Nguyễn Trinh Thi, Letters from Panduranga, 2015, single channel HD video, color, sound, 35:00 min. (artwork © Jamie Maxtone-Graham, image provided by the artist)

The workshop’s theme was an overview of the development of artistic practices in Southeast Asia from the 1970s to the present. Focusing on Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam the workshop examined the diverse artistic practices by individual artists and art collectives. Dr Chua’s paper discussed the works of Jason Wee, Debbie Ding and Robert Zhao in Singapore, specifically on how the artists used the archive in their works to mark a temporal shift in remembering and forgetting/erasure practices on Singapore’s history.

Continuing on theme of memory and history, Dr Corey’s paper explored the works of filmmakers Vandy Rattana (Cambodia) and Nguyễn Trinh Thi (Vietnam), in particular how the two filmmakers use voice in epistolary form to trace the relationship between landscape and history in Cambodia and Vietnam, two countries in Southeast Asia that experienced great historical trauma.

Dr Rath’s paper touched on history and the role of the State in cultural production. Her paper proposed that the literary field in Indonesia during the time of the authoritarian New Order regime contributed to the aesthetics of Indonesia’s experimental art group, GSRB, in particular the philosophy of ‘concreteness’ in 1970s. She discussed that the aesthetic and literary practices served as a counterpoint to the State’s philosophy of ‘developmentalism’.

Danarto, Kanvas Kosong – Empty Canvases, exhibition view, Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia (New Art Movement), 1979. With permission from FX Harsono Collection, Indonesia Visual Art Archive (IVAA), digitised by Hyphen & IVAA.

The discussion that followed each paper was lively as attendants and participants actively engaged with questions that were raised by the presentations. The participants of the workshop addressed issues such as memory, history, artistic milieu as well as the challenges of artistic practice and the writing of art history in the Southeast Asian context in their respective papers. For example, more and more Southeast Asian artists embraced forms of relational, socially-engaged and participatory art to reflect the changes and challenges not only within their own locality but also globally. The discussion also raised the issues on methodology, scope as well as the broader issue regarding global reception of works by contemporary Southeast Asian artists. For example, how both artists and the audience simultaneously embraced artistic practices so much that they become co-producers of art and culture.

The workshop was a welcome addition to the already diverse topic and expertise in the Art Histories and Practices program, in particular the workshop’s focus on modern and contemporary art from Southeast Asian region. Given the recent shift to reorient frameworks of art historiography to avoid Eurocentrism and explore alternative frameworks, the workshop highlighted art histories and artistic practices from other regions outside the West into greater visibility.

As the organiser of the workshop as well as a current fellow, the workshop was a contribution to the Forum’s focus in developing and fostering trans regional network of scholars. Furthermore, the workshop was also an excellent sharing platform for myself and other scholars who are currently working on research projects that focus the intersection of memory, history and visual art practices.

 

Wulandani Dirgantoro (Art Histories Fellow/Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin) is a researcher on Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Her research interests are transnational feminisms, and trauma and memory in Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Her dissertation entitled „Feminisms and Indonesian Contemporary Art: Defining Experiences“  was published in 2017 by Amsterdam University Press. She has contributed to various art publications in Asia, Australia and UK on Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Wulan recently participated in „Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art“ a research project within the Connecting Art Histories initiative by the Getty Foundation with a project on affect and modern paintings in Indonesia during the 1970s.

 

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Citation: Wulandani Dirgantoro, Workshop Report: Histories of Art and Art as History in Contemporary Southeast Asia, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 24.08.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/7562


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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