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Conference – 2020 Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference

Together with Katherine Bruhn, I put together a 2-part panel of PhD candidates from Australia, Singapore and the United States under the title “The Spiritual Foundations of Southeast Asian Arts.” Our panellists were: Katherine Bruhn, Duncan Alexander Caillaird, Laurence Marvin S. Castillo, Syed Muhammad Hafiz, Chloe Ho, Anissa Rahadiningtyas, Trude Renwick and Jarrod Sim. Here is the panel abstract:

Spirituality and religious practice permeate everyday Southeast Asian life. With a long history of indigenous beliefs, exposure to world religions through processes like maritime trade and the rapid movement of peoples in the contemporary era, religion is everywhere. Yet, at the same time, religion is seemingly nowhere in contemporary discourse concerning Southeast Asian creative practices.

Organized around an interest in the role that the spiritual may play in creative practices including contemporary art, film, music and architecture, this double panel moves beyond a defensive argument for the presence of religion and spirituality in art from Southeast Asia. Instead, it asks what we may gain or lose by engaging spirituality as an alternative frame for the examination of creative practices across Southeast Asia. Through an investigation of how we might begin to define an “aesthetics of the spiritual” as both unique to and defined by the diversity that characterizes Southeast Asia, we will be raising theoretical and methodological questions that will, in turn, advance further inquiries concerning the role that spirituality, understood as associated with but potentially separate from more formal adherence to world religions, has on the work of creative practitioners in varied fields across the region.

Katherine Bruhn & Chloe Ho for ASAA2020

My contribution was titled “Illuminations: To see art in Singapore.” Here is the abstract:

Current scholarship has productively analysed the impact of organised religion upon consciously religious artistic practice. From votive images to religiously-inflected narratives, impressive work has been done on the social and material culture of faith. Less attention has been given to the impact of religious practices upon secular society. In places like Singapore, where clear links between ethnicity and nationality do not exist, historical migratory patterns have allowed diverse rituals and imagery generally associated with specific religions to naturalise as part of the local culture and society. In the declination of religion from action or image, however, the discussion of these forms is often dismissed as simply part of the local traditions.  This paper takes a promiscuous and polytheistic view of religion, borrowing primarily from Buddhist and Christian thought toward an understanding of works by Lee Wen (b. 1957-d. 2019) and Suzann Victor (b. 1959-). It considers institutionalised faith as scholarly perspectives that inform and become part of these artists worldviews without necessarily inducting the artists into any congregation. Finally, it considers illumination: what does it mean to see and encounter the spiritual and to what extent are these visual pathways productive in our reception of these artists’ work?

Presentation abstract for ASAA2020

Unfortunately, because of the developing COVID-19 situation in Melbourne, the conference was cancelled.

The conference schedule can be found on the website here.