SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

(En)gendering Southeast Asia: Aesthetics and Politics of Sexual Difference

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

Southeast Asia has often been defined negatively: as a cultural sphere caught between the great civilizations of India and China. One of the most pervasive arguments for a coherent Southeast Asian cultural identity has involved isolating an indigenous social system marked by significant sexual egalitarianism, which was later overlaid and eclipsed by the exogenous phallocentric political-cultural structures that were to gain enduring ascendancy in the region. Through close readings of a range of Southeast Asian art forms across historical periods and including the contemporary, this course will examine the intersection of sexual difference and cultural expression within this Area Studies paradigm. Topics include theorizations of Southeast Asian regionalism and classical space; idioms of sexual difference in Khmer and Cham Hindu-Buddhist art; issues of race and intimacy in the colonial context; the mapping of the feminine onto 'Vietnam'; and queer theorizations in contemporary art. The course brings to ongoing debates on the definition of 'Southeast Asia' a focus on the role of art in the constitution of the region as such, exploring what might be said to be Southeast Asian about 'Southeast Asian art,' while also, quite literally, engendering new debates in the field

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate general knowledge of the historical and ongoing debates concerning the definition of the Southeast Asian region and the field of Southeast Asian art
  • Demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and how they apply to literacy in discourses of gender, sexuality, and queer theory and their imbrication in art historical methods
  • Analyse a range of Southeast Asian art objects, situating them with respect to religious and/or secular tradition, as well as historical and geographical circumstance, and considering how they convey conceptions of sexual difference
  • Critically evaluate historical, art historical and contemporary art critical discourse on the role of sexual difference in defining the Southeast Asian region
  • Apply interdisciplinary approaches to the analyses of visual materials and media across a range of historical and cultural contexts


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words essay (worth 30%)
  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Andaya, B. W. (2006) The Flaming Womb: repositioning women in early modern Southeast Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • Butler, J., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, 2006.
  • Dehejia, V. (1997) Representing the Body: gender issues in Indian art, Delhi: Kali for Women.
  • Kee, J. and P. Flores, eds., Third Text, Special Issue on Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Issue 25.4, 2011.
  • Kramrisch, S. (1981, 2nd edn 1992) The Presence of Śiva, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • O’Flaherty, W.D., Siva: the Erotic Ascetic, Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Pollock, S., The Language of the Gods in the World of Men, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Powers, J., A Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex, and the Body in Indian Buddhism, Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Taylor, N., ‘Art without History? Southeast Asian Artists and Their Communities in the Face of Geography,’ Art Journal 2011.
  • Wolters, O.W. (1999 revised edn; original edn 1982) History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives, SEAP in cooperation with ISEAS, Ithaca N.Y. and Singapore.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules