SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Issues in Contemporary Southeast Asian Art

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2
In the last decade there has a been a veritable increase in the profile and - to a certain extent - the branding of “contemporary Southeast Asian art.” This has been linked to the expanding market and exhibitionary mechanisms of the international art world, the increase in independent and artist-run spaces shaping regional and global networks, and the role of Singapore in establishing major institutions for research, exhibition, and collection. Given this unprecedented level of attention to Southeast Asia, this seminar surveys the field of contemporary art in the region with particular attention to theoretical and methodological issues. The thematic units structuring the course situate recent critical writings and case studies on contemporary art from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Singapore in dialogue with fundamental concepts in contemporary art history and theory, such as diaspora, the local/global tandem, conceptualism, participation, and regionalism. We will question the use value of these concepts in relation to the works of artists and collectives such as Dinh Q. Le, Redza Piyadasa, Rikrit Tirivanija, and ruangrupa, and the extent to which studies from this field may illustrate, problematize, or expand such terms. Given the current moment in which contemporary Southeast Asian artists find themselves, much of our discussion will engage these concepts with attention to practices of representation located in contemporary art’s discursive regime and the “biennial culture” of the twenty-first century.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this course a student will be able 

  •  Identify and critically analyze current issues and debates surrounding the production, interpretation, and representation of “Southeast Asian contemporary art”
  •  Develop theoretical literacy related to the terminology of contemporary art and situate these in the context of Southeast Asia
  •  Articulate issues of art historiography and geography from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from key readings on Southeast Asia in the fields of history, anthropology, and curatorship
  •  Apply critical theorization and methodologies to objects and case studies from Southeast Asia
    LO5. Analyze such practices and debates within a broader transnational and comparative scope


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

WEEK 1: Regionalism and History
WEEK 2: Historiography
WEEK 3: Modernism and the Modern
WEEK 4: Diaspora
WEEK 5: Local/Global
WEEK 6: Reading Week
WEEK 7: Conceptualism
WEEK 8: Curatorship and Biennial Culture
WEEK 9: Participation
WEEK 10: Alternative Regionalisms
WEEK 11: Presentations

Method of assessment

  • One  2 000 words essay (worth 70%)
  • One 30mns group presentation (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Chiu, Melissa., and Benjamin Genocchio, eds. Contemporary Art In Asia: A Critical Reader. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011.
  • Taylor, Nora A., and Boreth Ly, eds. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology. Ithaca, N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 2012.
  • Antoinette, Michelle, Reworlding Art History: Encounters with Contemporary Southeast Asian Art After 1990. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
  • Mathur, Saloni. The Migrant's Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora. Williamstown, Mass.: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2011.
  • Filipovic, Elena, Marieke van Hal, Solveig Ovstebo (Eds.), The Biennial Reader, Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules