(Re)making History: Two Recent Books Recast Southeast Asia’s Postcolonial Modernism

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(Re)making History: Two Recent Books Recast Southeast Asia’s Postcolonial Modernism

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(Re)making History: Two Recent Books Recast Southeast Asia’s Postcolonial Modernism
December 5, 2019 12:13pm
Gregory Galligan

Just ten years ago, if you had asked whether Southeast Asia possessed its own modern art history, you would have encountered little critical consensus. After all, the area is enormous and highly diverse, comprising Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, various individual islands, and even parts of India. Yet today many Global South critics and scholars insist on the cultural specificity of artistic change in these countries, contending that Western (i.e., largely northern trans-Atlantic) canon-making has for too long served as a fundamentally hegemonic, imperialist model in this equatorial Pacific zone—and, indeed, in the world as a whole.

The outlines of this renegade brief were sketched several decades back by a remarkably rigorous and empathic thinker, T.K. Sabapathy (b. 1938), author of the new anthology Writing the Modern: Selected Texts on Art & Art History in Singapore, Malaysia & Southeast Asia, 1973–2015. After extensive graduate training in Western art history at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of London in the 1960s, Sabapathy returned to his native Singapore, where in the early 1980s he became a kind of regional “influencer,” at once resident institutional adviser, exhibition curator, essayist, symposium contributor, and university educator.

In keeping with Sabapathy’s postwar Euro-American schooling, this compendium—including monographic articles, catalogue essays, newspaper features and exhibition reviews, conference papers, and public speeches—reflects his highly eclectic but always thoughtful take on Southeast Asia’s modern art developments. Drawing on the theoretic and iconographic methods of Western scholars such as Michael Baxandall, E.H. Gombrich, Rosalind Krauss, Herbert Read, Barbara Rose, and Michael Sullivan (all amply cited in his texts), Sabapathy demonstrates an acute sensitivity to the visual, tactile, and symbolic qualities of artistic mediums. Writing in the early 1990s on Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin, Sabapathy remarks of a Berlin-period painting:

Pictorial form and space are articulated convincingly, and integrated with a view towards enhancing sensory values. Winter Landscape (1962) is an arresting representation of forces that appear to slither along the surface, about one another, and finally coil into muscular knots in the inner recesses of the picture space. The sense of movement is palpable, even as it is silent.

If there is something retro about Sabapathy’s close, empirical engagement with the materiality of artworks (these days, such reading is often equated in the region with a self-indulgent “formalism,” if not an “elitist” art-for-art’s-sake hermeticism), there is nevertheless a real point of convergence between him and the emerging generation of more conceptually and politically oriented art historians featured in Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, 1945–1990, a volume resulting from symposiums conducted over several years under the auspices of the Getty Foundation.
Full article: https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/ ... 202670830/
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Re: (Re)making History: Two Recent Books Recast Southeast Asia’s Postcolonial Modernism

Post by j57 »

Jethro Bodine told his Uncle Jed that being an artist was all about sufferin...
He then dropped a giant boulder from the back of the truck on his foot and looked into the camera and said...I guess I have commenced to sufferin....
I prefer Jethro's theory.
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