SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Ms Vera Mey

BA (Victoria University of Wellington), MA (VUW)
  • Research


Vera Mey
Ms Vera Mey
Email address:
Thesis title:
Signs of a region: in search of the aesthetic imagination of Southeast Asia after 1948 (working title)
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


Vera Mey commenced PhD studies at SOAS in 2016. Prior to this, she spent several years working as a contemporary art curator in institutions including ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT University, New Zealand and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, a contemporary art research centre in Singapore led by Prof. Ute Meta Bauer. More recent independent work has included co-curating and curating exhibitions in New Zealand, Bangkok, Paris, Phnom Penh, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo including in 2017, "SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art from Southeast Asia 1980s to now" at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre Tokyo which was the largest survey of Southeast Asian artists to be exhibited, working in a team led by Mami Kataoka. In 2015-16 she was a scholar on Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, a research initiative of the Getty Foundation. She is co-founder of the peer reviewed journal SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia published by NUS Press (Singapore).

PhD Research

The region of Southeast Asia is often taken as a coherent and cohesive territory historically characterised by shared features such as a monsoon climate, a belief in spirits, rice agriculture, and Indianised culture. However, “Southeast Asia” was only named and institutionalised as a geographic and cultural entity in 1948 amidst the new geopolitical vision which arose during World War II. With the establishment of ASEAN in 1967 taking on greater regional as well as global prominence, the coherence and cohesiveness of “Southeast Asia” as a long-established term of reference is often taken as a given. These years of instituting the region coincided with the passion and revolution of multiple and concurrent multiple realisations of independence from colonial rule in the region during the Cold War era. While the story of the development of national identities and shared regional consciousness has been well explored as political history, there are other cultural and aesthetic dimensions, individual and institutional, which are yet to be highlighted.

This research seeks to examine the origins of the geographic horizon of Southeast Asia through looking at comparative case studies of Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore. Accompanying the region’s state independence were cultural shifts at both state-endorsed and artist-led levels that embraced a renewed aestheticisation of both the nation and region during the modern era. Focusing on iconography in Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore, to explore what art historian Redza Piyadasa coined as “regional tendencies” seen in art and visual culture in the Cold War era, from 1948 to 1988, this will include examining the continuity and recasting of iconography from pre-modern to modern Southeast Asia.

There are two main research questions. First: how did these iconographies emerge from, or contribute to, notions of regionalism in and of Southeast Asia in this period? The research aims to understand how iconography was instrumentalised from the poles of state and artist, and how the concept of Southeast Asia as a region was co-opted, embraced, critiqued and ultimately imaged. Second: can we speak of an 'aesthetic imagination' in and of Southeast Asia in this period of nascent regional political formation? This research also attempts to elucidate the earliest stages of constructing the region through a close reading and selection of iconography that when aligned could create a vocabulary of images which refer and infer to the region.


  • Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia
  • International Council of Museums (ICOM)


  • Southeast Asia
  • Modern Art
  • Contemporary Art
  • Curatorial Studies
  • Exhibition Studies
  • Postcolonial Theory