New Publication and Upcoming Event: “Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories”


By Roger Nelson, Clare Veal and Yvonne Low


The inauguration of Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories in 2017 was made possible as a result of the generous support from Power Institute at the University of Sydney, and grants from Asian Studies Association of Australia and the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. Convened by Yvonne Low, Roger Nelson, Clare Veal and Stephen Whiteman, the three-day event, which was kicked off by Professor Ashley Thompson’s keynote lecture Figuring the Buddha, was comprised of a full day symposium that delved into new research and intellectual terrain spanning three broad trajectories: (1) writing women into Southeast Asian art histories; (2) picturing gender in Southeast Asian texts, paintings, films and photographs; and (3) the politics of the feminine in the visual culture of this region. As an outcome of this event, selected papers from the symposium are now published in the latest special edited volume of the peer-reviewed journal Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, published by NUS Press (Singapore). The volume further comprises of translations of archival documents from significant feminist exhibitions Tradisexion and Womanifesto, and contributions from the co-founders of Womanifesto and leading scholars such as May Adadol Ingawanij and Patrick Flores. All articles are available via Open Access on Project Muse, thanks to the generous support of the Chen Chong Swee Asian Arts Programme at Yale-NUS College and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.


In 2019, the second iteration of Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories: Art, Design and Canon-Making?, takes place over two locations, the first of which was at Chulalongkorn University from 19–20 April. Building upon conversations initiated in Sydney in 2017 surrounding the development of methodologies informed by gender in the context of Southeast Asian art and visual culture, this event, convened in partnership with Juthamas Tangsantikul (CommDe), featured a wide range of activities including lectures, workshops, panel discussions, exhibitions and film screenings. They were all focused around the issues of labour and ‘canonisation’, and the ways in which these have been informed by understandings of gender and sexual difference.


Archive Womanifesto, Exhibition, view from street. Photo courtesy of Varsha Nair.


A key focus of the event was the histories of Womanifesto, a significant but understudied feminist artistic residency and exhibition project, that has been held biannually in various locations in Thailand since 1995 and later on online platforms. As such, one of the highlights of the event at Chulalongkorn was an exhibition of archival materials related to Womanifesto, which was curated by two of its co-founders Varsha Nair and Nitaya Ueareeworakul. The exhibition made publicly available, for the first time, materials including photographs, videos, artworks, documents, publications and other ephemera related to this event. The exhibition opening, which was presided over by Prof Pinraj Khanjanusthiti, the Dean of Chulalongkorn’s Faculty of Architecture, was also attended by many of the original participants in the various projects spearheaded by Womanifesto. One important outcome of the exhibition was a digitisation project to further facilitate the accessibility of these materials, which will be undertaken by Asia Art Archive (Hong Kong) this year.


Womanifesto’s relevance to broader discussions of sexual difference, women’s labour and canonisation, was foregrounded in Dr May Adadol Ingawanij’s keynote lecture, which began the events on the morning of 19 April. Dr Ingawanij’s theoretically rich presentation charted wide territory, from literature to photography and film, to examine the ways in which concepts of subject and ground might shape our enquiries into these materials. As such, her talk challenged the audience to think beyond strategies of recovery and inclusion to realise the radical potentials of shifts in scale and focus.


Dr May Adadol Ingawanij giving her keynote lecture. Photo courtesy of Roger Nelson.


Following Dr Ingawanij’s presentation, Dr Clare Veal’s workshop continued the discussion of the concepts of subject and ground in order to examine how they might inform practical strategies for working with archives and visual materials. This was followed by an invigorating and inspiring conversation between Professor Patrick Flores and three founding members of Womanifesto – Varsha Nair, Nitaya Ueareeworakul and Phaptawan Suwannakudt. In his introduction, Professor Flores parsed a range of latitudes that situated Womanifesto in affinity with other feminist art collectives in the region. In the discussion that ensued, these themes became important touchstones for the Womanifesto organisers in their articulations of their own experiences.


Archive Womanifesto, Exhibition, Installation view. Photo courtesy of Roger Nelson.


Day two of the symposium featured a film screening of Nervous Translation that was followed by a discussion between Dr Ingawanij and the director, Shreen Seno. The Chulalongkorn event finished with a frank discussion about the role of gender in Thailand’s design industry led by Dr. Juthamas Tangsantikul and featuring Rachaporn Choochuey, Thida Plitpholkarnpim and Saran Yen Panya, which provided a rich starting point for cross-disciplinary comparative work in the future.

The second part of Gender in Southeast Asian Art Histories: Art, Design and Canon-Making? will be hosted once more by Power Institute on 18-19 October 2019, and convened by Roger Nelson, Clare Veal and Yvonne Low, in collaboration with Catriona Moore (Department of Art History and Film Studies). It aims to extend conversations initiated in Bangkok around women’s exhibitions, archives and canon-making, including an exhibition of Womanifesto Archives at The Cross Art Projects. The two-day event will present workshops and panel discussions on using digital methods to rethink practices of canonisation in conventional modes of knowledge production, namely women-centred texts and exhibitions, culminating in a round-table that brings together leading feminist scholars to consider the current and future states of feminist art research. These will be undertaken with the aim of developing an online research platform to facilitate a larger Southeast Asian Art and Gender Network. Call for Proposals have now closed and details of the program will be made available soon.


Archive Womanifesto, Exhibition, Installation view of work by Onanong Klinsiri (Untitled), woven portrait. Photo courtesy of Roger Nelson.