Mobility and Curating the Contemporary

From the book


Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art 

Edited by Patrick D. Flores & Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani

Contributing writers: Eva Bentcheva, Zasha Colah, Brigitta Isabella, Nikos Papastergiadis Vipash Purichanont, Niranjan Rajah, Cathy Schlund-Vials, Ashley Thompson, Nikita Yingqian Cai.

INTERLACED JOURNEYS: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art brings together the work of some of the most engaging art historians and curators from Southeast Asia and beyond that explores the notion of diaspora in contemporary visual culture. Regional attention on this particular condition of movement and resettlement has often been confined to sociological studies, while the place of diaspora in Southeast Asian contemporary art remains mostly unexplored. This is the first anthology to examine the subject from the complex perspective of artistic and curatorial practice as it attempts to propose multiple narratives of diaspora in relation to a range of articulations in the contemporary context.

Published by OSAGE Art Foundation, 2020

Mobility and Curating the Contemporary[1]
Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani 

Many years in the making, this anthology emerged from the editors and writers’ sheer determination to tackle the overwhelming state of affairs occurring time and again in Southeast Asia in relation to mobility, border crossing, and contemporary art, and to explore how much these inform each other (if at all) in today’s visual culture. The title is telling. Interlaced Journeys: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asia suggests, from the outset, the existence of interconnected paths that, crossing over each other, come to define the diasporic condition shared by many in culturally diverse Southeast Asia. Inclusiveness, in fact, underlines the main aim of this volume: to be a discursive platform with and for the people, on which to voice personal and communal concerns that enable us all to learn from one another on how we witness and experience diaspora today. To do so, while this volume respectfully acknowledges the critical literature developed on diaspora as a postcolonial subject of inquiry, and its outreach in sociology and migration studies, it pushes the boundaries beyond the ‘conceptual’ to explore diaspora as a life experience against that of contemporary art.   

Developed in the 1990s, the concept of diaspora gained significant currency in the anthropological and cultural fields in relation to mass movements of people primarily in Europe, Middle East, the Americas, and Africa. The adoption of diaspora as a methodology to consider the movement of people in and of Southeast Asia, amid geopolitical conflict, economic struggle, and ethnic diversity, however, has received limited scholarly attention over the years. This volume examines this geographical gap in the subject of diaspora specifically in relation to contemporary art. Regional awareness on diaspora and art has been confined, for the most part, to postcolonial studies that consider specific migratory groups in relation to art practices, but that may not adopt diaspora as a working framework to trace contemporary art narratives across histogeographical boundaries and cultural transformations.[2] Specifically in contemporary art discourse, apart from selected curatorial projects and exhibitions,[3] specialized academic journals,[4] and roundtable discussions at ubiquitous biennales across the region,[5] the subject of diaspora in and of Southeast Asia, with its related features of migration, displacement, and return, is treated fragmentarily and does not conform simply to general categorization in national art histories. This is partly due to the composite nature of Southeast Asia itself, a region that encompasses an “overwhelming diversity” of ethnicities, religions, languages, and histories that make it problematic to define Southeast Asian contemporary art,[6] and from there to map uniform artistic tendencies relative to diasporic identities. 

At the same time, there is growing interest in the subject of diaspora in art history and contemporary social studies at the international level. Nikos Papastergiadis in his postscript to this anthology attributes this wider exposure of the subject to the hypermobility of artists and curators alike, and the rise of global art discourses that have “debunked the comprehensive capacities and exposed the essentialist flaws of the old art historical models”. To these obsolete art historical paradigms, Papastergiadis offers an alternative “that is both ancient and new: an aesthetic cosmopolitanism” that can be operational in Southeast Asia and elsewhere by a spirit of friendship[7] and collaboration among mobile artists and ever-mobile curators, in an efficient mode of critical exchange and knowledge production.[8] 

Altogether, these are the premises and cornerstones of Interlaced Journeys: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art: to be a collaborative project informed by curatorial investigation and sustained by the same spirit of friendship and solidarity mentioned above, whereby the volume’s extensive research hinges on ongoing communication among the writers—respected art historians, curators, and diaspora subject specialists from Southeast Asia and beyond—as well as the continuous dialogue with the artists and art practitioners that are the subject of investigation of this volume, and its very inspiration. Indeed, as an independent (thus mobile) curator, through my groundwork in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia, visits to artists’ studios, field research, interviews, and in loco documentation, I have learned that there are far too many artists whose voices speak of diaspora, whose artistic narratives map diasporic journeys, and whose lives are marked by antagonism towards their homelands. Their stories pivot on the notion of the border as a cultural and geopolitical divide in a progressively borderless society. 

With Interlaced Journeys, we decided to engage in these stories in a dynamic way, as the stories themselves are. Hence, eschewing uniform writing styles, we favoured  a “hybrid thinking” approach, which aims to integrate curatorial engagement with academic research, in order to enable  this volume to function as a creative platform where artists, curators, and historians are invited to participate as vectors of exchange and “proliferation” to examine the multifarious aesthetics of the diasporic experience. This is also the proposition, and inspiration, Patrick D. Flores ruminates on in his foreword: to interweave spaces of knowledge and cultural diversity, across boundaries, and in transit. From this perspective, this anthology’s framework embraces the hybrid thinking proposition, whereby curatorial practice is taken inclusively both as a work method to collate and organize the writings via its sustained curatorial thread, and also as a line of inquiry into whether mobility as a curatorial strategy responds to the mobility of art and artists.

The mobile curator 

As a brand definition that equates with nomadic art practices, the mobile curator thrives among art residencies, research initiatives, and job openings the world over.[9] However, specifically to Southeast Asia, the figure of the mobile curator has gained critical traction only in recent decades to fill the academic and research gaps left by institutions—thus “on weak footing on Asian academia, art history has neither the critical mass nor institutional density to reset the research agenda”.[10] 

Hence, relatively new in the region, the emergence of mobile curatorial practices in Southeast Asia can be traced back to the early 1990s to key individuals that have championed Southeast Asian visual narratives abroad. Flores has analyzed this phenomenon to great extent in his work by focusing on renowned curatorial figures such as Apinan Poshyananda, who has been instrumental in the expansion of the geographical parameters of Southeast Asian art through, for instance, the pioneering art exhibition Traditions/Tensions (1996) at the Asia Society in New York.[11] This seminal exhibition not only enacted a diasporic reconfiguration of Southeast Asian art abroad, a notion Niranjan Rajah counter-argues in his essay that by emphasizing transnational, thus exportable, “visual languages”, the exhibition risked diluting “specific cultural references” of Southeast Asia, but also contributed to defining the figure of the (mobile) curator as “agent provocateur, activist, organizer, ideologue, ethnographer, translator, harbinger, gatekeeper, intellectual, innovator, networker, catalyst, platform maker, discoverer, and mediator”.[12] 

Twenty years later, we are faced with the fact that curatorial mobility has become a prerequisite of the art world, punctuated by the growing number of art fairs, biennales, art residencies, and traveling exhibitions that require diasporic traveling patterns on the parts of both artists and curators. While these art events populate the global art world, the increasing number of private museums in Southeast Asia signals the need to engage with local communities through local and/or international art, which in turn becomes diasporic from its center polity. Biennales and art fairs on one hand and private museums on the other, these factors contribute to a wider circulation of art, and in so doing promote artistic and curatorial mobility. By negotiating Southeast Asian regional art discourses at the international level, the curator is invested in bringing culture abroad and being in transit in a nomadic manner that resonates with Peter Sloterdijk’s “self without place” elaborated acutely by Vipash Purichanont, that is, the curator encapsulates what Sloterdijk refers to as a globalized subjectivity without deep roots, and in transit, open to develop new relations anywhere. In this process, curatorial practices feed the need for the diasporic mobility of the artists; at the same time, artistic mobility requires curatorial mobile practices in a continuum that often culminates in exhibitions or art initiatives for and with diasporic communities. In facilitating the circulation of art narratives from the center polity outwards, the risk that mobile curatorial practices may incur, Brigitta Isabella warns us, is the crafting of an artificial representation of national identities to the end of representing art from a specific locality. While this is a risk the mobile curator needs to be aware of, the mobility of such curatorial practices, which by definition are not rooted in a specific locale, can in turn provide alternative and critical narratives that may not be deployed otherwise. In the same spirit, Eva Bentcheva argues that artistic mobility and diaspora need to be framed cautiously by Southeast Asian curatorial endeavors, as their reference to the traveling of artists and curators may also limit how art practices are used to regulate national agendas, and the “art continuity” of a specific diasporic subjectivity. 

Framed in this context, the aim and intent of Interlaced Journeys is to examine the notion of “mobility” and that of the “diasporic” from the perspective of art so as to understand if a specific aesthetics is derived from the diasporic experience, or arguably the opposite,[13] and to identify the interpretive techniques that map this aesthetics onto the cartography of contemporary art history in Southeast Asia. The prism of possibilities that stems from this proposition is expanded by the narrative of the chapters that, as distinct as they are, base their arguments on two shared coordinates: the notion of the majority polity, the nation or homeland; and the intersecting dispersal of people “dwelling in travel”,[14] belonging (or unbelonging) to the very polity. These arguments are unpacked by the writers through the visual expression of recurring conceptual markers: the global mobility of the artist, curator, and the “art exhibition”; the historization of trauma through art, diasporic memory, and free speech[15]; the marginalization of ethnic groups, the dispossessed, and the stateless individual, relegated to the status of subaltern, which may be voiced by counter-historiographic art practices; and diasporic art practices or those that are defined as such, in which the personal and communal are repositioned through social practice, employing the body of the diasporic artist as embodiment of home, tradition, and territory. 

The journey begins 

Interlaced Journeys takes as its point of departure the diasporic events that have occurred in Southeast Asia since the Cold War that today may still exert its impact. Within this chronology, the volume acknowledges the appellation of Southeast Asia as a geographical area after the Second World War, and upholds the intention of historians of Southeast Asia to authenticate the region, in this case the diaspora in and of Southeast Asia, as a growing field of inquiry.[16] Most of the chapters illustrate specific countries. However, instead of geographical or temporal order, they find their natural placements in three classifications: Locality and Movement; Art and Politics; and Trans-spatial Bodies. From this perspective, the chapters are arranged around the key aspects of diaspora as defined by James Clifford, a recurring reference in this volume, as an expatriate community dispersed from the original “center” but that maintains the “memory” of homeland, which is held as the eventual place of “return”.[17] Nonetheless, while all ten chapters provide context and offer interpretations of “diasporic art” as Rajah states, and the diasporic condition of the artist, they also raise questions that in turn serve as indicators of the (many) alternative ways we may interpret the relationship between art and diaspora, a condition implicated with notions of exile, migration, and displacement.[18] Because of the complexity of mobilizing diasporic art within any of these notions, it is important to remark on the methodology employed by the writings, or rather the absence of one absolute approach to favor a variety of methods, from the case study approach, to the use of semiotics, geopolitics, and postcolonial and diaspora theories. This concurrence of methods reflects the diversity of the writers from established academics and theorists, to the younger generation of art historians, curators, and specialists who constitute the voices of tomorrow, imparting a productive congruence of academia and insight anthologized from intersecting fields of research and curatorship in one publication. This effort in harmonizing knowledge production on one hand advocates hybrid thinking, encouraging scope and inclusiveness, and on the other hand, it underlines the writers’ diversity as a reflection of the multiplicity of this vast land and sea we call Southeast Asia, and in which we aspire to further our knowledge.[19] This cultural heterogeneity is paramount to the region, as it is to this publication. 

Locality and movement 

Eva Bentcheva, Vipash Purichanont, and Nikita Yingqian Cai introduce us to the historiography of the region by exploring the implications of mobility, traveling, and the delocalized community from the “center” as a strategy in framing diasporic curatorial practices, and their challenges and alternatives. By problematizing artistic mobility versus diaspora, Bentcheva questions how these two terms in art history and curatorship may be used to indicate the same migratory experience. Although both imply traveling, in “artistic mobility”, traveling is a temporary and possibly resolved condition; of “diaspora”, traveling is “dwelling in travel”,[20] which involves longing for and belonging to a center. Furthermore, with Southeast Asia and its multifarious historical and contemporary linkages, the curatorial strategy to frame artistic mobility and diaspora may also address the national identity and the notion of the homeland. Bentcheva specifically employs the case study approach on the relation between diaspora and movement in Philippine contemporary art, focusing on selected exhibitions that conceptually examine the gap between home and abroad. While diasporic dispersion and mobility cannot be separated, Bentcheva argues that diaspora studies may no longer be the primary resource through which to grasp diasporic aesthetics. 

David Medalla, ‘Microclima’, live performance in collaboration with Adam Nankervis and Daniel Kupfberg at Serra dei Giardini, viale Garibaldi, 18 August 2015. Performed as part of the Philippine Pavilion, Tie A String Around the World, curated by Patrick Flores, Venice Biennale 2015. Image courtesy of Dino Brucelas
David Medalla, ‘Microclima’, live performance in collaboration with Adam Nankervis and Daniel Kupfberg at Serra dei Giardini, viale Garibaldi, 18 August 2015. Performed as part of the Philippine Pavilion, Tie A String Around the World, curated by Patrick Flores, Venice Biennale 2015. Image courtesy of Dino Brucelas.


Bentcheva’s approach finds resonance in Purichanont’s preoccupation with differentiating diaspora from “diasporic movement”, an ambiguous yet considerably appropriate term for the present globalized state, then deliberating on the role of curatorial practice in and for diasporic communities, and the difficulties in being recognized within regional art history. While Purichanont notes that in Southeast Asian art discourse, diaspora refers to artists and artworks but not to exhibitions, he insists this paradigm should be shifted to acknowledge not only the artist but also the curator, and thus curatorial practice. He offers a comparative analysis of selected art events that were organized for diasporic communities in “remote control” mode by the “center” polity, in this case Thailand, alongside events organized hands-on by diasporic curators in the interest of diasporic subjectivity. This comparative study reveals how the “dwelling in travel” nature of diasporic curatorial practice is a potentially productive means of engaging with the notion of cultural belonging. 

On the other hand, Yingqian Cai, in her chapter for this volume “Where is the Dragon Boat Going? New Institutional Geographies of Our Times”, investigates “recent geopolitical changes and the migration of materiality, ideas and knowledge in the global network” within institutional geographies. In particular, she examines the diasporic curatorial models adopted or developed by Guangdong Times Museum, a fairly new, non-profit establishment that, by virtue of its geographical location in the Pearl River Delta region, functions as a pivoting platform for exhibitions and cultural programs that revolve around the notion of diaspora and being on the move. 

Art and politics 

The “politics” of the motherland is the center of the diasporic trajectory. We see this for instance in the migratory fluxes of the boat people during and after the Vietnam War, and of the stateless and displaced in the ethnically fragmented Burma/Myanmar. In this context the chapters by Cathy Schlund-Vials and Zasha Colah weigh in on the notion of “memory” to re-examine the political past of a few Southeast Asian countries, and trace the loci between the localities of art, trauma, and exile. 

For Schlund-Vials, the trauma of the Vietnam War has persisted up to the present, and it is manifested in what she defines as the “military-inflected” aesthetics of the artists: Cambodian Vandy Rattana, Lao/Cambodian-American Sayon Syprasoeuth, and Vietnamese-American Dinh Q. Lê. She foregrounds in detail the political context of the Vietnam War, which involved Cambodia and Laos, and catalyzed the late 20th century Southeast Asian diaspora. Her essay also examines the American definition of “collateral damage” on the region through the analysis of the practice of these three artists, which she argues impacts their critical art-making today. 

Vandy Rattana, ‘Kampong Thom’, from the Bomb Ponds series, 2009. Digital c-print, 98 x 111 cm. Photo courtesy of SA SA BASSAC and the artist
Vandy Rattana, ‘Kampong Thom’, from the Bomb Ponds series, 2009. Digital c-print, 98 x 111 cm. Photo courtesy of SA SA BASSAC and the artist


Therein an important question arises: does being diasporic imply discontent with or restitution to the home country? In her chapter, Colah carefully unpacks the terms “belonging” and “un-belonging” through a critical analysis of two activist-artists exiled from Myanmar: Chaw Ei Thein, who established the art@apt in New York City in 2009 as a center for traveling or exiled artists from Myanmar; and Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, who founded the Yawnghwe Office in Exile in 2015, a curatorial project that traces the story of exile of his Shan family.[21] Colah’s exploration of the works is an epiphany of the situation of marginalization, deportation, exile, and migration in ethnically fragmented Myanmar. In unraveling diasporic subjectivity, where do we place, conceptually over and above geographically, the stateless individual “belonging to none, having no social contract with any nation-state, undeportable, returnable to none”? This is a question without an easy answer, and is, most likely, a fundamental issue in human rights. The position of urgency taken by Colah compels us to reflect on the composite appellation of diaspora as immigrant, expat, resident, displaced person, refugee, minority, deportee, outsider, or alien—essential signifiers of a subjectivity that belongs to no majority polity but to the diasporic community. 

Trans-spatial bodies: the mobile artist 

If the diasporic subjectivity of the artist spans time and space in the migratory rhetoric in which home, memory, and return reconcile with one another, I would argue that the body becomes the site of departure and arrival, or the vessel of the diasporic journey. In their respective chapters, Ashley Thompson and Niranjan Rajah open a dialogue on the actual physicality of the “body”, that of the Buddha figure or, in Rajah’s case, the artist as a diasporic signifier. In particular, Thompson scrutinizes diaspora through the Buddha figure, a lone and empty signifier that can be invested with new meaning according to the beholder’s interpretation, “because the Buddha also means precisely and essentially no one, the Buddha figure can be anything for anyone”. Deviating from the historical connotation as a religious figure, the Buddha signifies not only doctrine and teachings, but also home and tradition for the diasporic community. Significantly, homelessness is the condition of the Buddha’s life. In Thompson’s investigation of contemporary Cambodia in her essay, she contemplates the works and visual strategies of the artists Anida Yoeu Ali and Amy Lee Sanford, who left Cambodia at an early age and grew up in the United States. Through specific works that involve the “body”, both Ali and Sanford perform a Buddhist embodiment, Thompson argues, which is contemporary to their diasporic subjectivity and imparts the interpretation of the Buddha figure as the “matrix for place and space”. 

Rajah extends the notion of the body as diasporic subjectivity, reflecting on the self and his own diasporic experience. Born in Sri Lanka (British Ceylon at that time), Rajah moved to Malaysia as a child, studied in the United Kingdom, and returned to Kuala Lumpur with his English wife. Together with his family he now lives in Canada, where he has resided for ten years. His artistic journey follows his nomadic life, and his life and art together become the archive of his diasporic condition. Akin to Clifford’s “dwelling in time”, Rajah considers how (his) art has developed parallel with time in this diasporic condition, and how it intersects with the intemporal transmission of culture, and myths and icons in history. By focusing on home, country and territory through personal and communal history, the art practice of the diasporic artist, Rajah affirms, becomes a social practice.[22] 

The same act of dwelling in what Clifford defines “transit lounge” is adopted by Brigitta Isabella who apprehends “mobility” and “travel” as bearings on which to advance and transform knowledge in the global society. Isabella considers the experience of being mobile through the traveling practices of Indonesian artist Tintin Wulia and the art collective Ahmett Salina that challenge state narratives, also addressed by Bentcheva, and expose the commodification of culture in art. Isabella positions mobility as an intellectual choice, an intentional undertaking by her selected artists to eschew the state-commodified Indonesian-ness, and instead explore displaced identities in the process of travel across geopolitical boundaries. 

Tintin Wulia, ‘(Re)Collection of Togetherness’ - Stage 6, 2011. Installation, interactive performance, and single-channel video. Photo by Pauline Guyon. Image courtesy of Espace culturel Louis Vuitton and the artist.
Tintin Wulia, ‘(Re)Collection of Togetherness’ – Stage 6, 2011. Installation, interactive performance, and single-channel video. Photo by Pauline Guyon. Image courtesy of Espace culturel Louis Vuitton and the artist.


This anthology opens with an insightful foreword by Patrick D. Flores, where he proposes to draw a crucial nexus in contemporary art discourse, that of positing curatorial practice as akin to the diasporic quest. This proposition is further unpacked through the chapters in different ways, and it is sustained by the approach of this anthology, which is positioned at the convergence of curatorial investigation as a discursive platform that abide by inclusiveness of perspectives to explore diaspora as a life experience in respect of contemporary art in Southeast Asia. The book concludes with an equally illuminating postscript by Nikos Papastergiadis that condenses the dilemma we all face in the current global art discourse. While we might not all be diasporic in the sense of seeking refuge or fleeing crises, we all partake of a nomadic experience of art, whereby mobility has become an ongoing feature of life, a mobility that increasingly eludes geographical boundaries, as well as cultural markers. In this sense Papastergiadis’s framing of cosmopolitanism offers “another way of seeing and being in the world”, perhaps more optimistic, where there is no diaspora in displacement, as we all belong to a more inclusive and embracing cosmos. It is fitting in this context that the mobility of diasporic art practices and of the curatorial may find a unified trajectory, traveling not away from a locus, but towards a new destination. 

[1] This essay was written as introductory chapter for the volume INTERLACED JOURNEYS: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art. Edited by Patrick D. Flores & Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani . (Hong Kong: OSAGE Art Foundation, 2020) 

[2] See, among others, Jonathan H.X. Lee, Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories and Visions, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), an extensive collection of academia centered on Southeast Asian diaspora in the United States; Hae-kyung Um, Diasporas and Interculturalism in Asian Performing Arts: Translating Traditions (Oxford: Routledge-Curzon, 2005), which focuses on the performing arts, such as theater, dance and music, of the Asian diaspora; and gender studies in Isabelle Thuy Pelaud et al, Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014). 

[3] A recent group exhibition Afterwork (2016) at Para Site, Hong Kong, includes a roundtable and workshops, exploring class, race, labor, and migration in Hong Kong and nearby regions as part of the ongoing Hong Kong’s Migrant Domestic Workers Project. Brigitta Isabella, one of the contributors to Interlaced Journeys, worked with the migrant workers for the anthology of diaspora literature published in conjunction with the exhibition, titled Afterwork Readings/Babasahin Matapos ang Trabajo/Bacaan Selepas Kerja /工餘. 

[4] The seminal journal Third Text established in 1987 by London-based Pakistani artist and curator Rasheed Araeen has incorporated the writings of a number of Southeast Asian scholars, occasionally, on the topic of diaspora, which have revealed important perspectives in the discourse of Southeast Asian contemporary art and the diaspora. 

[5] In Thailand alone, the unprecedented surge of biennales (Thailand has never held a biennale before) manifests in 2018, three in all, two in Bangkok: The Bangkok Art Biennale, and the Bangkok Biennale; and one in Krabi, the Krabi Biennale. These biennales were announced at different times in 2016, creating high interest and expectations on the Thai art scene. 

[6] See Joan Kee, “Introduction Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: The Right Kind of Trouble,” Third Text 25, no. 4 (July 2011): 374–75.        

[7] Nikos Papastergiadis refers to Zoe Butt’s reference of the term “friendship” to describe her curatorial practice as “dialogical intercontextuality of engaging artists and their art to create encounters between aesthetics and politics”. See Ute Meta Bauer and Brigitte Oetker, eds., SouthEastAsia: Spaces of the Curatorial (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016), 207–8. 

[8] In relation to art in the global context, see also Nikos Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012).             

[9] Consider, for instance, the recent activities organized by Independent Curators International (ICI) to facilitate networking opportunities for young curators and to explore mobile curatorial methods. See “Recent Events,” ICF | International Curators Forum, accessed 18 December 2017,    

[10] On canonization in art history in Southeast Asia, David Teh discusses the role of the “hypermobile, independent curator” filling the gaps left by art historical research in the attempt, shared by transitional contemporary art, to group and “regroup” art. See David Teh’s curatorial essay for the exhibition Misfits: Pages from a Loose-leaf Modernity at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2017.          

[11] In the same spirit of Traditions/Tensions,  Asia Society New York recently hosted the exhibition After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History (2017) curated by Tan Boon Hui, which proposes to the Western public, through an articulated curatorial approach, the socially engaged artistic practices of contemporary Southeast Asia. As reviewed: “The art in ‘After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History’, at the Asia Society on Park Avenue, is the fruit of this global shift. The work here comes from Indonesia, Myanmar (or Burma) and Vietnam, though with just seven artists and one collective, it’s small enough to avoid the curse of the ‘regional show’ and doesn’t force any unity on a diverse lineup.” See Jason Farago, “Southeast Asia Stakes Its Claim in the Art World,” New York Times, 27 September 2017, 

[12] Patrick D. Flores, “Turns in Tropics,” in Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology, eds. Nora A. Taylor and Boreth Ly (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asian Program Publications, 2012). 

[13] For example, Pamela Corey has explored alternative readings of diasporic art practices. In her analysis of artists Sopheap Pich and Dinh Q. Lê, who grew up in the United States and returned to Cambodia and Vietnam, respectively, Corey proposes a contrasting reading of trauma and the refugee diasporic experience, to see their use of local art and aesthetics instead through the lens of Southeast Asian conceptual art. See Pamela Corey, “Beyond yet Toward Representation: Diasporic Artists and Craft as Conceptualism in Contemporary Southeast Asia,” Journal of Modern Craft 9, no. 2 (July 2016): 162–63. 

[14] James Clifford understands these nomadic individuals as “dwelling in travel” who submit their identities to “routes” rather than “roots”, “in a moving picture of a world that doesn’t stand still”. See James Clifford, “The Transit Lounge of Culture,” Times Literary Supplement, 3 May 1991, 7. Similarly, Papastergiadis notes that artists in recent years have “engaged issues that are pertinent to different locales throughout the world. This nomadic sensibility is not necessarily a rootless experience”. See Nikos Papastergiadis, op. cit.          

[15] For the right to remember and the responsibility to recall, see Marie-Aude Baronian, Stephen Besser, and Yolande Jansen, Diaspora and Memory: Figures of Displacement in Contemporary Literature, Arts and Politics (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi BV, 2006).                   

[16] Craig J. Reynolds, “A New Look at Old Southeast Asia,” The Journal of Asian Studies 54 (1995): 437. 

[17] James Clifford, “Diasporas,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3 (1994): 304, in relation to William Safran, “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 83–99. 

[18] See Kobena Mercer, ed., Exiles, Diasporas and Strangers (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008). 

[19] O.W. Wolters, “Towards Defining Southeast Asian History,” in History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (New York: SEAP Publications, 1999). 

[20] Clifford, “Transit Lounge,” op. cit.        

[21] In the exhibition Body Luggage: Migrations of Gestures curated by Colah at Kunsthaus Graz in 2016, she addresses issues of belonging, and of body language, “the only luggage we are able to carry” in a situation of exigency. See Zasha Colah, ed., Body Luggage: Migration of Gestures (exh. cat.) (Berlin: Archive Books, 2016).     

[22] Rajah refers to his work The Koboi Project, last iterated at the Singapore Biennale 2016 An Atlas of Mirrors in the section “A Somewhere or Elsewhere” that examined displacement, homelessness and alienation of the migrant experience, and featured works by artists from Pakistan, Vietnam, India and Malaysia.