2018 has been an exciting and rich year for Power’s initiatives in Asian art. From the Sydney Asian Art Series to the launch of Site and Space in Southeast Asia, our projects have taken us around the world and brought the world to Sydney, inviting us to rethink seemingly familiar ground and explore new territory.
In its second year, the Sydney Asian Art Series took up the theme of Uncertain Objects: Trajectories of Asian Art. Art history has, traditionally, been organised around national, or failing that, clearly defined civilizational lines. Yet as the global turn has come to our field, alongside new ways of thinking about artistic production, reception, and the “social lives” of objects, our eyes are being opened not only to the connectedness of the premodern and modern world across national lines, but to the transnational construction and expression of culture. Four speakers explored these concerns in widely different contexts this year, including Winnie Wong (Berkeley) on 18thc. Canton painting and the circulation of images between China and Europe; Ajay Sinha (Mt Holyoke College) on the photographic encounter between the Indian dancer Ram Gopal and photographer Carl van Vechten in 1930s New York; Timon Screech (SOAS, University of London) on the English East India Company in Japan; and Nancy Um (Binghamton University) on the commissioning of Japanese porcelain as diplomatic gifts across the early modern Indian Ocean world. Each speaker also presented on a second occasion, ranging from participation in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ public film series (Sinha) to seminars for University of Art History undergraduates, Masters students, and the interested public.
For 2019, the Sydney Asian Art Series will turn to architecture, urban environments, and the spatial dimensions of art history, a reflection of a shared interest in these questions among our three presenting partners, the Power Institute, the University of Sydney China Studies Centre, and the VisAsia Council, and our two supporting organisations, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the University of Sydney, through Sydney Ideas. Scheduled speakers include Sussan Babaie (Courtauld Institute of Art), a specialist in the early modern Islamic world, Yasufumi Nakamori (Tate Modern), whose research in photography and new media focuses particularly on Japanese cities, and Cole Roskam (University of Hong Kong), presenting new work on architecture and urbanism in 1970s and ‘80s China. We thank all our supporters, institutional and individual, for another wonderful year and look forward to presenting another engaging series in the year to come.
Our second major initiative this year lies entirely outside Sydney, focusing on site-based research in Myanmar, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Site and Space in Southeast Asia, funded through the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative, seeks to build professional networks and research capacity among early career art and architectural historians working in, and on, Southeast Asia, through a collaborative research project. Building on our first Connecting Art Histories program, Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, which concluded in 2016, Site and Spaceinvolves fifteen researchers working in three teams. Each team is focused on a different city—Huê, Penang, and Yangon—and will produce collaborative and individual research over the coming two years. This year’s activities included our opening workshop, hosted by our partner National Gallery Singapore, and field schools in each of the three cities. The project emphasises developing local partnerships with individuals and institutions in our focus communities and across Southeast Asia, and we look forward to the growth of these relationships over the next two years. On behalf of my fellow Chief Investigators, Mark Ledbury and Adrian Vickers, our team leaders, Caroline Herbelin of the University of Toulouse, Tom Patton of the City University of Hong Kong, and Simon Soon of the University of Malaya, and all our participants, we want to extend our appreciation to the Getty Foundation, National Gallery Singapore, Nanyang Technological University Libraries, Dumbarton Oaks, and all our other partners in this exciting venture.
Finally, as 2018 draws to a close, so, too, does my time at the University of Sydney and my tenure as Deputy Director of the Power Institute—in early 2019, my family and I will be relocating to London, where I will be taking up a newly established post at the Courtauld Institute of Art teaching the Arts of China. When I first visited Sydney in 2013, job offer in hand but not yet on staff, Mark Ledbury spoke to me of his desire for Power to broaden its reach beyond a traditional focus on European, Australian, and American art, to model a more “global” art history, and to lead in its development in our department and in Australia more broadly. He invited me to consider supporting this when I felt I was ready, and to come to him if I had any ideas; little did he know how much he would see of me in the coming years!
With the Mark’s support, and that of many, many others at Power, in RC Mills, and across the University and Sydney community, I am immensely proud of the strides we have made towards a more global, diverse, and inclusive art history through our programming and research support. Power is, more than ever, recognised as a force for good in our field, not only in Australia, but across the region and, increasingly, around the world. We are focused on creating access and opportunities for early career researchers of incredible promise, and are being richly rewarded for that faith and initiative—that the edited volume emerging from Ambitious Alignments, published jointly by Power and NGS early this year, is already on its second printing and has been very well reviewed is but the most apparent example. I am very sorry that I will miss other great evidence of this drive—the welcoming of Australia’s first continuing lecturer in arts of the Islamic world to the department in 2019, as well as our first of three Terra Visiting Professors in the Arts of First Nations America later in the year—but I am so grateful for the small part I have been able to play in these developments. I hope and trust that they will continue long after I have left Sydney—that Power, and this Department, will continue to model the just, equitable, and inclusive society we wish to see around us through our teaching, research, and advocacy—and I will not only be cheering from London, but hope to continue to be involved in any way that I can.
With best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday and 2019 —
Deputy Director, Power Institute