SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Dr Heidi Tan

MA Art & Archaeology (SOAS)
  • Research


Heidi Tan
Department of History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Dr Heidi Tan
Email address:
Thesis title:
Meritorious Curating and the Renewal of Pagoda Museums in Myanmar


Heidi Tan was a founding curator of the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore where she worked since 1996. She was responsible for developing the Southeast Asian collections and permanent galleries of the museum. She curated a series of special exhibitions in collaboration with regional museums in Southeast Asia including: Viet Nam. From Myth to Modernity (2008), Sumatra: Isle of Gold (2010), Enlightened Ways. The Many Streams of Buddhist Art in Thailand (2012) and most recently contributed to Cities and Kings. Ancient Treasures from Myanmar (2016).

Since 2015 she has taught courses within the Department including Curating
Cultures, and Collecting and Curating Buddhist Art in the Museum and has tutored
Themes in South and Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology.

PhD Research

‘Ancient things’ have been amassed, stored and displayed at sacred sites in Myanmar for millennia as they have elsewhere within the Buddhist world. This thesis looks at the more recent phenomenon known as the ‘pagoda museum’ that emerged in response to legacies of Buddhist merit-making from at least the early 1900s. The comparative approach seeks to understand the forms and practices of the pagoda museum and how it manifests as a process of museumisation located within sacred space. Shifts in this process observed during the period 2013-2016 reflect wider social changes in Myanmar and beyond as similar manifestations elsewhere in Asia suggest (Mathur and Singh 2015). The approach to this study is inspired by comparative museologies particularly the emerging study of ‘micromuseology’ (Fiona Candlin, 2016).


  • Tan, Heidi (2021) “The Shwedagon Pagoda Museum, Yangon”, in Gods’ Collections edited by Crispin Paine and Jessica Hughes (publication forthcoming).
  • Tan, Heidi (2020) Meritorious Curating and the Renewal of Pagoda Museums in Myanmar, PhD thesis, SOAS University of London.
  • Tan Heidi (2016) "Cultural Landscapes of Later Myanmar" with Khine Pyae Sone, in Cities and Kings. Ancient Treasures from Myanmar, edited by Stephen Murphy. Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, pp. 58–73.
  • Tan, Heidi (2015) “Power, Merit and Popular Belief. Venerating the Image of Buddha in Myanmar”. In Buddhist Art in Myanmar edited by Sylvia Fraser Lu and Donald M. Stadtner, New York: Asia Society, pp. 81–87.
  • Tan, Heidi (2012) Enlightened Ways. The Many Streams of Buddhist Art in Thailand, introduction to exhibition catalogue edited by Heidi Tan, Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, pp. 8–18.


  • "The Museum in the Temple: Curating the Sacred and the Pagoda Museum in Myanmar", talk for Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme & Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, SOAS, 21 March 2018.
  • "Curating the Lives of a Wish fulfilling Buddha", American Council for Southern Asian Art Symposium XVIII, Boston, 12-15 October 2017.


  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, International Research Centre for the History and Culture of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms (China). Arts Department, Northumbria University, Newcastle.
    Alphawood Foundation
  • Co-editor, Pratu, Journal of Buddhist and Hindu Art, Architecture and Archaeology from Ancient to Premodern Southeast Asia, SOAS
  • Co-convenor, Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme Research Seminar Series, SOAS


I am interested in cross-disciplinary approaches to curating Buddhist material culture and the museumisation of temples in Myanmar and Southeast Asia.