Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories II: Art, Digitality and Canon-Making

Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories II: Art, Digitality and Canon-Making, University of Sydney, 18-19 October 2019.

Convened by Yvonne Low, Roger Nelson, Clare Veal, and Catriona Moore.

Speakers included: Flaudette May Datuin (University of the Philippines); Siobhan Campbell (University of Sydney); Wulan Dirgantoro (University of Melbourne); Greg Doyle (University of Sydney); Jaya Jacobo (University of the Philippines); Wong Bing Hao (independent writer and researcher); Michelle Wong (Asia Art Archive); Roger Nelson (National Gallery Singapore); Yvonne Low (University of Sydney); Clare Veal (LASALLE College of the Arts); Varsha Nair (Womanifesto); Nitaya Ueareeworakul (Womanifesto); Phaptawan Suwannakudt (Womanifesto); Adrian Vickers (University of Sydney)

This two-day event developed from continuing conversations begun at the Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories event at Chulalongkorn University, held in March 2019.

With the aim of exploring the impact of digitality on gender-related discourses and artistic practices in the context of Southeast Asia, scholars in Sydney presented innovative and transdisciplinary research on methodological and other issues surrounding problems posed by technologies and the “digital humanities,” and discussed the potential of digital tools and methodologies in academic, curatorial, and other forms of research.

The full-day symposium in Sydney concluded with a keynote lecture by Prof Flaudette May Datuin (University of the Philippines), titled ‘The Wind in the Trees: From Tradisexion to Womanifesto’. Speaking anecdotally and self-reflectively, Datuin re-examined her past research – as well as her practices of teaching, writing and curating – and the relationships she has built over the years, in order to consider the various problematics around women’s labour. This keynote provided many methodological insights that resonated with the participants. 

The following day, Datuin chaired an animated roundtable discussion on Womanifesto at the opening of the archive exhibition hosted by The Cross Art Projects, comprising of artists Varsha Nair, Phaptawan Suwannakudt and, Nitaya Ueareeworakul, in conversation with Roger Nelson and Clare Veal. The exhibition, titled Archiving Womanifesto: An International Art Exchange (1990s-Present) restaged elements of the Womanifesto archive first shown at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok in April 2019. Importantly, the exhibition foregrounded the voices of several of the artists and organisers involved in this ongoing but often overlooked  international women’s art network. The exhibition was cordially opened by Rachel Kent (Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia), who remarked on the political challenges that Womanifesto’s activities brought into focus. Kent’s remarks were followed by a curators’ talk by Phaptawan and Nitaya, who guided visitors through the generously dense display of archival materials, while also sharing reflections on their own exhibited artworks.

The Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories II events, in Bangkok and in Sydney, fostered important conversations and discussions around the histories of ‘women artists’, issues of gender and methodologies of art writing, in relation to digitality and canonicity. A key aim of the workshops and seminars, as well as the accompanying exhibitions, was to gather senior international scholars alongside a new generation of early career researchers, so as to bring together different generational perspectives and facilitate a collaborative, cross-institutional and international research cohort.

Flaudette May Datuin and Roger Nelson during Datuin’s keynote, ‘The Wind in the Trees: From Tradisexion to Womanifesto’. Photograph courtesy of Clare Veal.
Flaudette May Datuin and Roger Nelson during Datuin’s keynote, ‘The Wind in the Trees: From Tradisexion to Womanifesto’. Photograph courtesy of Clare Veal.

Symposium Program

By harnessing the potential of digital tools and methodologies in academic research and digital humanities, the symposium aspired to form a bridge between digital tools and research ideas in the hope of providing a platform for the presentation of new research on gender broadly, and for the rethinking of frameworks, approaches and methodologies in the writing of feminist and area art histories. Attempts to scrutinise and challenge canon-making processes from feminist perspectives are often characterised as “re-telling a compensatory history”, in the words of Flaudette May Datuin (University of the Phillipines). Considering each of the various activities involved in feminist art historical work, among others, papers presented at this symposium moved through questions of researching and writing, to making and using archives, as well as approaching and interpreting information, art, and their absences. This symposium offered the opportunity to explore the potential of digital approaches in discourses of gender in Southeast Asian art histories as well as to come to terms with the critical and scholarly issues that may arise with this. Download the program here.

Archiving Womanifesto: Closing Event

Archiving Womanifesto closed on November 16, with a curator’s talk by Varsha Nair, and an open forum moderated by Dr Catriona Moore, University of Sydney.

Coming together: Collective actions and future feminist archives

The work of local, regional and transnational artist collectives and curatorial actions feed growing archives, of which the Womanifesto project is an important example. Practical questions of archival retrieval and currency will focus our discussion. 

The Archiving Womanifesto exhibition indicates how artists, curators and scholars enliven archival voices to help us understand the art of our times. Collectives produce archives, and in turn, archives might produce collectives, or models for future collectivity. Archiving is an active verb, and feminist archives are not inert collections but may also propel future-oriented feminist models. This closing discussion offers an opportunity to ask whether the evolving Womanifesto ‘workshop and exhibition’ model has been pioneered or tested elsewhere, or whether specific collective platforms are best developed to suit local needs.

There is much to share about past, present and future feminist art collectives in the region. As Womanifesto begins a new chapter, its rich archives are being digitalised by the Asia Art Archive. This brings to mind other feminist collectives that emerged in the pre-digital era; their archival material unfortunately still scattered and endangered.  

The Womanifesto archives help us rethink nation-centric (and region-centric) narratives, by bringing to the fore the material memories of participating women artists from around the world, including Australia. What of the future of the Womanifesto archives and related Southeast  Asian ventures, of feminist-driven archival projects in Australia,such as the Women’s Art Register and Future Feminist Archive), among others)? 

Do more marginalised contemporary feminist collectives and archives that are currently emerging in the region address the status quo with more imaginative and reflexive thinking?  We note here the feminist approaches possibly guiding the development of the Indonesia Visual Art Archive, National Gallery of Singapore archives and Malaysia Design Archive, and smaller archival holdings surfacing through feminist curatorial practice, such as Judy Freya Sibayan’s archive, recently exhibited in artwork form, the Kasibulan archives, as well as the Fifth Passage archive currently being digitised by Chu Chu Yuan for the Singapore Art Museum, amongst other ventures. In Sydney many look to the AGNSW artists archives as an important repository for a wealth of pre-digital material.

How can we enable conversations between these collective histories in a period of increasing national and regional gatekeeping? These practical considerations form the preconditions for global feminist art and art history. We welcome your ideas!

Volunteers, Emma Harbridge and Claudia Thomson, assisting the curators with the installation, and de-installation of the exhibition. Photo by: Varsha Nair
Volunteers, Emma Harbridge and Claudia Thomson, assisting the curators with the installation, and de-installation of the exhibition. Photo by: Varsha Nair

Education 

A key aim of the workshops and seminars, as well as the accompanying exhibitions, was to gather senior international scholars alongside a new generation of early career researchers, so as to bring together different generational perspectives and facilitate a collaborative, cross-institutional and international research cohort. One hope of the organisers is that the exchanges made at these gatherings will help to strengthen the foundation for sustainable, ongoing scholarly inquiry in this field. As such, many activities in the program have been developed with the aim of including and providing opportunities for higher degree research students (including, to date, students from  Chulalongkorn University, University of Sydney and LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore). One example is the support given to University of Sydney Honours student, Caitlyn Coman-Sargent, who conducted promising new research on Womanifesto and feminist approaches. Coman-Sargent was supported to attend and participate in the workshops, seminars and roundtable discussions held in Bangkok and Sydney, which proved an invaluable experience that she critically reflected on in her successful Honours thesis, The Women of Womanifesto: Making art and history (2019). Students from the Masters in Curatorship and Museum Studies course and the Art History department were also involved in the exhibition-making process as interns and volunteers, which provided an enriching and rare opportunity to engage with Southeast Asian source materials and artists.

Documentation

A brief overview of the 2019 events held at Chulalongkorn University and University of Sydney, published on Power Publications.

http://www.powerpublications.com.au/gender-in-southeast-asian-art-histories-2019-report/

Supported by the Power Institute together with the School of Literature, Art and Media and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney; the Cross Art Projects; Asia Art Archive; John Cruthers and Professor Elaine Baker.

The committee is grateful to Asia Art Archive and John Cruthers for in-kind support. 
 

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