Workshop on National lmaginations in Southeast Asian Art

This workshop sought to critically evaluate the ways in which Southeast Asian nations are imagined by artists and other cultural agents such as art critics, gallerists, collectors, independent curators or museums, and the state. It comes at a time when ‘national art’ is being redefined while more public and private institutions in the region are erected to re-imagine the narratives of nationhood. Whether through modern or contemporary art which interrogates the consequences of global capitalism, scholars at this workshop explored how art is deployed either as a coalescing force for the imagination of the nation or a critical expression of its flaws and strains.

National Imaginations in Southeast Asian Art

Co-convenors, Dr Terence Chong, Senior Fellow; Coordinator, Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme; and Head, Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Dr Helene Njoto, ISEAS Visiting Fellow (seated left and right respectively), introducing the Workshop and Prof Patrick Flores (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Friday, 20 January 2017 – The Workshop for National Imaginations in Southeast Asian Art was organised by the Regional Social Cultural Studies programme and was co-convened by Dr Terence Chong and Dr Helene Njoto. Held on 20 January 2017, the Workshop attracted over 140 participants from government ministries, foreign embassies, academia, museums, galleries, and the broader public.

This one-day Workshop sought to critically evaluate ‘national art’ in Southeast Asia. It attempted to identify art works, artists, critics, museums, and the state as key agents in the making of ‘national art’, as well as its tensions. This workshop comes at a time when ‘national art’ is being redefined while more public and private institutions in the region are erected to re-imagine the position and narratives of nationhood.

Prof Patrick Flores delivering the keynote address (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Professor Patrick Flores kicked off the Workshop with his keynote address. Prof Flores asked several broad questions that set the tone for the rest of the day. These questions include – Does the imagination of the national make sense only in relation to a Southeast Asian context, or can it be seen in relative isolation? If the national cannot survive this autonomy or exclusivity, what happens when it includes or is included in the regional or the international?

Panel I: Indonesia

Dr Njoto introducing the four speakers from the first panel (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The first panel was dedicated to Indonesia. Here Dr Marie-Odette Scalliet explored the ways in which iconic Indonesian artist, Raden Saleh, was constructed as a national hero by the state and other actors. Dr Matt Cox focused on Javanese artists in the diaspora and investigated the way they engaged with the complexities of the colonial art. Ms. Katherine Bruhn argued for the need to see West Sumatran artists not merely as Indonesian artists but as artists with specific positions in the national narrative of Indonesian fine art. Ms Brigitta Isabella discussed the ambiguous identities of Chinese Indonesian artists and the tension of dual attachment with Chinese and Indonesian nationalism.

Panel II: Philippines and Thailand

Dr Benjamin Loh, ISEAS Fellow moderating the second panel (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The second panel focused on two countries, namely the Philippines and Thailand. Dr Pearlie Rose S Baluyut examined iconic Filipino artist, Juan Luna’s Parisian Life, while Professor Emmanuelle Sinardet examined the cultural politics of España y Filipinas, also by Juan Luna. Dr Brian Curtin examined the works of selected Thai artists and their ideas of ‘Thainess’.

Panel III: Malaysia and Singapore

The line-up of moderator and speakers for the final panel (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The final panel was on Malaysia and Singapore. Dr Sarena Abdullah spoke on Islamic art in Malaysia and its development since the 1980s. Ms Daphne Ang looked at how portraits were used in the process of nation building in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. Ms Hong Chu Yu Grace examined the role of the National Gallery Singapore and critiqued its international exhibition “Reframing Modernism: Painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and Beyond”. Finally, Dr Yvonne Low surveyed Singapore’s ambition to be a global city for the arts and its challenges beginning from the early 1990s.

More than 140 participants attended the full-day workshop.

Participants at the workshop (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)