Dr Roger Nelson1, Mr Daniel Tham2, Ms Charmaine Toh1, Dr Kyla McFarlane3
1National Gallery Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, 2National Museum of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore, 3The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Chair: Dr Roger Nelson
“Do we not want to have variations, differences, alternatives, or do we want everything under one centralized authority and thereby mute them? I fear for this,” said art historian T.K. Sabapathy in a 2019 interview. His statement articulates a widely-held anxiety. Do museums in Southeast Asia play a homogenising, canonising role in the ongoing formation of historical narratives about the region’s art and visual culture? Despite the longstanding existence of national art and history museums in cities throughout Southeast Asia, presently only museums in Singapore exhibit modern art and visual culture of the entire region on a large scale. The research, exhibitions, acquisitions, collaborations, and publications undertaken by museums in Singapore are thus subject to rigorous scrutiny.
Many curators, in Singapore and elsewhere, share Sabapathy’s desire for “variations, differences, alternatives.” Presenters in this panel highlight that their research often extends to under-studied aspects of Southeast Asia’s art and history, which are little-known among both specialists and general publics. This heterogeneity of research topics and methodologies attempts to surface and negotiate new questions, resisting a singular, stable history. This panel invites critical responses to the presenters’ exhibitionary and other research, and by extension, this de-canonical approach to museological practice.