Visual Arts Program
Cultural Centre
 Visual Arts Program, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, W.Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


My research focuses primarily on 19th and 20th-century art and visual culture in Southeast Asia - specifically Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and to some extent, Thailand. I graduated with a BA (first class honours) in art history from the University of Melbourne. I then received my PhD from the University of Sydney under an Australian Postgraduate Award fellowship, where I wrote a dissertation on the spatio-visual practices of postwar left-leaning art movements in Singapore/Malaya, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines from the 1950s - 1970s under the supervision of Adrian Vickers, John Clark and Stephen Whiteman.

I characterise my research very broadly as social art history, which reflects an interest in approaching 'art history from below'. I also have a broader interest in Asian modernities (India, Japan, and China) as a discursive method and in the broader field of art historiography (e.g. how is history being written? By whom and by what means?). Principally, questions about spatial-visual subjectivities and social formations, in relation to art and cultural history, animate the kind of research I do. I also have a strong interest in examining art or cultural phenomenon through understanding them as intersections of history, memory, and mythology. Much more so than critical thinking, I value imaginative scholarships on art and cultural histories that change our understanding of ourselves, the world and our relationships with one another. 

Currently, I spend a lot of time exploring Empire critique through a 19th and early 20th century cross-ethnic processional culture that was celebrated in the first 11-13 days of the Islamic New Year (Muharram). The Muharram procession both followed and defied the logic of imperial circulation, where the matyrdom of Hassan and Hussain was transformed from a Shi'a commemorative ritual into an event-form by indentured migrant labourers and marginalised local communities to register social presence and disrupt colonial ordering of space and people. Poems, paintings, prints, music culture (boria, calypso, etc.), photographs, travelogues, ethnographic papers, police report constitute my source materials in theorising the imagistic power of the composite. I hope to develop my research into a book project that looks at how permutative and agglutinative principles underpinning the composite help to produce and distribute a 'pathosformel of Husayn' against Imperium. 

Prior to undertaking academic research, I have worked as a curator in the field of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. I still occasionally curate exhibitions and make artworks. I am a co-founder and a member of the editorial collective of SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, a relatively new peer-review journal published by NUS Press. I am also a team member of Malaysia Design Archive (, an archival, research and education platform on visual cultures of the 20th century.

Other interests of mine include global flows in art, architecture, and visual cultures of Asia (early modern, colonial, modern/contemporary), discursive power of colonial/nationalist visual regimes, mercantile cultures and patronage in the reinvention of selves, new migrant cosmologies in the age of European imperialism, cultural histories of political theology, concepts of power in Buddhist art history, Islamicate networks of knowledge and imagination across the Indian ocean, Latin-America and Southeast Asian cultural networks and comparative frameworks, critical urban and spatial histories, modern esoteric movements and ritual practices, The Theosophical Society and nationalism, abstraction and modernism in Asia and Africa, history of photography, artistic and cultural modernities in the Malay world, early modern and modern Indian and Chinese intellectual history, and anthropology of art. Students interested to explore imaginative vectors and critical sightlines in areas of cultural-historical research are welcome to contact me.

(Qualification), (Institution).

(Organisation), (Role), (Year), (Level).

  • SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art (Journal, NUS Press), Editorial Board Member, 2016 to 2020, (International)
  • Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Member, 2016 to 2017, (National)
  • Malaysia Design Archive, Board Of Directors, 2016, (National)
  • College Art Association, Member, 2017 to 2018, (International)

(Role), (Level), (Start date),(End Date).

  • Working Committee, National, 01/11/2018 to 01/12/2020 (Member of the working committee for the Creative Hub project at University of Malaya in collaboration with British Council. )
  • Coordinator, University Malaya, 01/07/2018 to 01/04/2020 (Coordinator of PIyadasa Galllery. )
  • Coordinator, Faculty, 17/03/2017 (Role is on-going. Collaborate with Ilham Gallery for the ILHAM Public Lecture Series to invite international scholars on Asian art to share their research with students and the public.)
  • Coordinator, Faculty, 20/08/2016 (Role is on-going. Organise regular public lectures on art history and visual culture by scholars and curatorial professionals as part of a public engagement initiative.)


  • Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Studies (Modernities in Asian Art, art historiography, comparative art history, third world aesthetics)
  • Post and Colonial and Global Culture Studies (Global flows in art, architecture and visual cultures of Asia [early modern, colonial, modern/contemporary], social art history, colonial and postcolonial scopic and visual regimes)


Chapter in Book

  • Soon, S. (2018). Place of Learning: The Contested Cultural Topographies of Nanyang University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. in S. Whiteman, S. Abdullah, Y. Low, P. Scott (Eds.) Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, 1945 - 1990 (pp. 139-163). Sydney and Singapore: Power Publications and National Gallery Singapore. 

  • Soon, S. (2017). Notes on GRUP. In Rahel Joseph (ed.), Gerak, Rupa, Ubur, Penyataan (pp. 1-20). Kuala Lumpur: Ilham Gallery. 
  • Soon, S. (2017). The Athame and Other Malay Weapons: A Postwar Performance and Productive Power. In Cosmin Costinas and Ana Janevski (eds.), Is the Living Body the Last Thing Left Alive?: The New Performance Turn, Its Histories and Its Institutions (pp. 185-89). Hong Kong and Germany: Parasite and Sternberg Press. 
  • Soon, S. (2017). The Woman and the Vista: Intimate Revolt of the Cultural Left.. In S. W. Low and P.D. Flores (Eds.), Charting Thoughts: Essays on Art in Southeast Asia (pp. 202-214). Singapore: The National Gallery of Singapore. 
  • Soon, S. (2017). Kedai-kedai. In Nur Hanim Khairuddin (ed.), Bumi Larangan: Zulkifli Dahlan (pp. 40-50). Kuala Lumpur: Dulkifli Dahlan Gallery, Teratak Nuromar and National Art Gallery, Malaysia. 
  • Soon, S. 2017. On Unlearning and Relearning. Dlm. Tsiung Han See (pnyt). Latihan: Selected Studies by Wong Hoy Cheong, hlm. 4-10. Kuala Lumpur: OUR ArtProjects. 

  • Soon, S. 2016. Reading Tsang Tsou Choi: Margin, Madness and a Hong Kong Avant-Garde. Dlm. Ferreboeuf, R., Noble, F. & Plunkett T. (pnyt). Preservation, Radicalism, and the Avant-Garde Canon. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Soon, S. 2016. Batik and the Grand Design for Modern Art. Dlm Joseph, R., Khairuddin N.H. & Simpson, F. (pnyt). Love Me in My Batik: Modern Batik Art from Malaysia and Beyond, hlm. 6-21. Kuala Lumpur: Ilham Gallery. 
  • Soon, S. 2016. Rethinking Curatorial Colonialism. Dlm. Ute Meta Bauer dan Brigitte Oetker (pnyt). SouthEastAsia Spaces of the Curatorial. Berlin: Sternberg Press. 

  • Soon, S. 2015. Moving Suara for Sovereignty: Reading the shifts in 1950's Modern Art Discourse in Malay through Kamus Politik (ENG and MLY). Dlm. Joseph, R. & Khairuddin N.H. (pnyt). Dato' Hoessein Enas: From His Personal Collection, hlm. 116-137. Kuala Lumpur: Ilham Gallery. 
  • Soon, S. 2015. When was East and Southeast Asia's Modernism in Art?: Comparisons and Intersections. Dlm. Lindgren, A. & Ross, S. (pnyt). The Modernist World, hlm. 78-87. London: Routledge. 
  • Soon, S. 2015. Photography and the Grid. Dlm. Wong, H.C., Nge, C. & Tan, J. (pnyt). Ismail Hashim: Essays, Interviews and Archives, hlm. 32-46. Kuala Lumpur: Fergana. 

  • Soon, S. 2013. Four Currencies in Contemporary Practice. Dlm. Khairuddin, N.H., Yong, B., & Sabapathy, T.K. (pnyt). Narratives in Malaysian Art: Vol. II/ Reactions - New Critical Strategies, hlm. 319-333. Kuala Lumpur: RogueArt. 
  • Soon, S. 2013. An Empty Canvas on which many shadows have fallen. Dlm. Khairuddin, N.H., Yong, B., & Sabapathy, T.K. (pnyt). Narratives in Malaysian Art: Vol. II/ Reactions - New Critical Strategies, hlm. 55-69. Kuala Lumpur: RogueArt. 
Article in Academic Journals

  • Soon, S. (2018). Creativity in Dissent: From the Politics of Pedagogy to the Art of Pedagogy. Southeast Asian Studies, 7(3), 449-470. (SCOPUS-Indexed)

  • Soon, S. (2018). /Cloud/ Watching or Portrait of a Young Artist in 1990s Kuala Lumpur. Afterall Journal. Issue 45 Spring/Summer 2018. 97 - 107. (ISI-Indexed)
  • Soon, S. (2018). Malay: The Hikmat [Inner Workings] of Seni [Art]: Gambar [Picture], Lukis [to Paint or Draw], Moden/Moderen [Modern], Sezaman [of this Age], Baru [New], Kontemporer/Kontemporari [Contemporary], Kagunan [Beneficial Refinement], Imajan [Imagery]. SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, NUS Press, October, 2(2), 119-166. (Non-ISI/Non-SCOPUS)

  • Soon, S. et al (Eds.). (2017). Editorial: Discomfort. SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia. Singapore: NUS Press. (Non-ISI/Non-SCOPUS)

  • Soon, S. (2016). Images without Bodies: Chiangmai Social Installation and the Art History of Cooperative Suffering. Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry. No. 42 Autumn/Winter 2016, 36-47 (ISI-Indexed)

  • Soon, S. 2015. Fabric and the Fabrication of a Queer Narrative: The Batik Paintings of Patrick Ng Kah Onn. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. Issue 38, August 2015. (Non-ISI/Non-SCOPUS)

  • Soon, S. 2014. Converging Extremes: Exhibitions and Historical Sightlines in 1990s Malaysia. Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art. Vol. 13 No 2, March 2014 : 85 - 97. (Non-ISI/Non-SCOPUS)

  • Soon, S. 2012. Spatio-Temporal Currency: The Kalachakra Sand Mandala as Cultural Object in Performance. Modern Art Asia. Issue 12. (Non-ISI/Non-SCOPUS)
Mass Media(Newspaper,Radio,Tv,Popular Magazine)

  • Soon, S. and Suzy Sulaiman. [speakers] (25 Jan 2018) "Merata Suara: Decentering Conversations" [radio broadcast] In Ahmad Fuad Rahmat [Producer] BFM Night School. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 

  • Soon, S. and Tong, M. [speakers] (13 Jan 2017) "Activist Art Leaps Forward" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 
  • Soon, S. and Joseph, R. [speakers] (3 Nov 2017) "Pioneer Modern Malaysian Artists" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 
  • Soon, S.[speaker] (28 July 2017) "UNDERSTANDING VISUAL LANGUAGE III: EDO JAPAN & WOODBLOCK PRINTING" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 
  • Soon, S.[speaker] (23 June 2017) "UNDERSTANDING VISUAL LANGUAGE II: Haussmannisation and the Avant-garde of 19th century Paris" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 
  • Soon, S.[speaker] (26 May 2017) "UNDERSTANDING VISUAL LANGUAGE I" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio 
  • Soon, S.[speaker] (14 Feb 2017) "ON LEARNING AND UNLEARNING, WONG HOY CHEONG" [radio broadcast] In Lim Soon Heng [Producer] The Bigger Picture: Front Row. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio. 

  • Soon, S.[speaker] (26 Mar 2016) "What was left of Art" [radio broadcast] In Ahmad Fuad Rahmat [Producer] Night School.The Business Station. Kuala Lumpur: BFM Studio. 
Article in Non-Refereed Journals

  • Soon, S. 2015. Terms of Collectivity. Discipline. Issue 4: 12 - 40. 

(Project title), (Role), (From)-(Until), (Level), (Source).

  • Site and Space in Southeast Asia. Site and Space in Southeast Asia, Principal Investigator(PI), 2017 - 2020, Getty Foundation Connecting Art Histories Initiative, (International)
  • Constructing Decolonial Art History Of Southeast Asia, Principal Investigator(PI), 2017 - 2019, International Funding, (International)
  • Constructing Decolonial Art History of Southeast Asia, Director, 2017 - 2018, International Funding, (International)

(Title), (Event), (Date Presented), (Organiser), (Level).

  • 'Images without Bodies: Chiangmai Social Installation and the Art History of Cooperative Suffering', Regions of the Contemporary: Transnational Art Festivals and Exhibitions in 1990s Southeast Asia, 2016-11-05 to 2016-11-07, Afterall Journal and University of Melbourne, (International)
  • 'Concrete, like a nation, is ambitious', Conference: The Impossibility of Mapping (Urban Asia), 2016-11-25 to 2016-11-26, Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, (International)
  • 'Datok Fatimah in Chinese Body: Homely and Unhomely Presence in a Klang House Temple', 'Datok Fatimah in Chinese Body: Homely and Unhomely Presence in a Klang House Temple', 2017-02-16 to 2017-03-16, Malaysia Chinese Research Centre, (National)
  • 'Creativity in Dissent', Malaysian Studies Workshop, 2017-02-22 to 2017-02-23, Graduate Research Institute of Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo, (International)
  • 'The Sanggar as Collective', The role of independent art spaces and collectives in Southeast East Asian art history and practice, 2017-03-13 to 2017-03-13, La Salle, College of the Arts, (International)
  • "Who is this Coomaraswamy?": S. Durai Raja Singam and the Allegory of Diasporic Affinity, International Symposium 2017 - Archival Turn: East Asian Contemporary Art and Taiwan (1960-1989), 2017-04-08 to 2017-04-09, Spring Foundation and Taipei Fine Arts Museum, (International)
  • 'SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art', TRANSLATION, UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE AND DISTANCE IN CONTEMPORARY ART CROSS ASIA, 2017-04-20 to 2017-04-20, Zero Station and Asian Center, Japan Foundation, (International)
  • 'The impossibility of not writing: Diasporic Affinity and Intellectual Memory as Resistance', Creative Cultures of Anglophone Southeast Asia, 2017-12-05 to 2017-12-05, Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya, (National)
  • Homely and Unhomely Presence in a Klang House Temple, CAA-Getty International Program Preconference Colloquium, 2018-02-20 to 2018-02-20, CAA-GETTY INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM, (International)
  • 'Colonial Cosmopolitans', Class lecture for the subject 'Saying No to Imperialism', Visualising Freedom', 2018-02-27 to 2018-02-27, Atreyee Gupta, History of Art Department, University of California, Berkeley, (International)
  • Crackling and bristling with energy: Batik and Decoloniality, Perverse Decolonization , 2018-05-19 to 2018-05-20, Para Site Hong Kong and Academy of Arts of the World in Cologne, (International)
  • Crackling and bristling with energy: Decoloniality and Batik's Futurism, Decoloniality, Global Batik, and Art's Politics and Publics in Malaysia, 2018-06-05 to 2018-06-05, Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts, SOAS, University of London, (International)
  • The Brown: Race, Coldwar and the Context in Art History, Rethinking Art and Politics in Cold-War Southeast Asia, Panel Discussion, 2018-06-23 to 2018-06-23, National Gallery of Singapore, (International)
  • Writing the World: Storied Spaces of the Visual , Uncommon Pursuits: A Temporary School for Emergent Curators in Southeast Asia, 2018-07-31 to 2018-08-03, San Art, (International)
  • Panels 'Institutional Critique and Aspirations for Alternatives' and 'Potential and Issues for Global Art History', Networking Avant-Gardes in Asia - taking up 'Awakenings' for discussion, 2018-10-13 to 2018-10-13, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and The Japan Foundation Asia Center, (International)
  • 'Datok Fatimah in Chinese Body: A House Temple typifying Homely and Unhomely Presence', 2nd SEAARC (Southeast Asia Architecture Research Collaborative) Symposium: Modernity s Other Disclosing Southeast Asia s built environment across the colonial and postcolonial worlds, 2017-01-05 to 2017-01-07, Southeast Asia Architecture Research Collaborative, (International)
  • N/A, The CIMAM 2017 Annual Conference, 2017-11-10 to 2017-12-12, National Gallery of Singapore, (International)
  • Session 2: KL, I love you, but... - Forming support systems for the visual arts in Malaysia, beyond Kuala Lumpur, Mejabulat: Sidang Suara Seni, 2018-11-10 to 2018-11-10, CENDANA in partnership with RogueArt. , (National)
  • Art historian TK Sabapathy, moderated by Simon Soon (senior lecturer, Visual Arts Department, Universiti Malaya), How Easily Modernism Could Be Disturbed, 2018-12-01 to 2018-12-01, National Gallery of Singapore and Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, (International)

(Description), (Evaluation Activity),(Year).

  • Peer reviewer for SARJANA. December 2018., Article In Journal ,  (2018 - 2018)
  • Peer reviewer for Kajian Malaysia (ISI/SCOPUS). February 2017., Article In Journal ,  (2018 - 2018)
  • Peer reviewer for Journal of Vietnamese Studies. May 2018., Article In Journal ,  (2018 - 2018)
  • Peer reviewer for Kritika Kultura (ISI/SCOPUS). May 2017., Article In Journal ,  (2017 - 2017)
  • Peer reviewer for South East Asia Research Journal (ISI/SCOPUS). February 2016., Article In Journal ,  (2016 - 2016)
  • Peer reviewer for Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art. February 2016., Article In Journal ,  (2016 - 2016)

(Contribution To Society), (Level), (Start Date), (End Date).

  • Participated in research and drafting of a statement from the members of the Malaysian Arts and Culture Community to the new Pakatan Harapan government on 18 May 2018. Statement available in Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan-Dusun. Signed by 3523 signatories from the arts and culture community of Malaysia by 20 May 2018. The statement was submitted to the new Pakatan Harapan government following a press conference that resulted in a number of media coverages on 21 May 2018. , (National), 18/05/2018 until 21/05/2018
  • Commented on modernist painter Latiff Mohidin accorded a solo show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in a feature article 'Latiff Mohidin: first Southeast Asian artist to be exhibited at world famous Paris museum' written by Kate Mayberry and published by Southeast Asia Globe., (International), 16/03/2018 until 16/03/2018
  • Convenor of one-day public symposium 'Modern Architecture and the City: Knowledge and Social Memory of Modern Architecture' at ILHAM Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Leading experts from Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Hong Kong met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of modern architecture in region and beyond., (International), 13/01/2018 until 13/01/2018
  • Malaysia Design Archive (I am a co-director) was awarded the Grand Award for Culture at the DFA (Design For Asia) Awards at Hong Kong Design Centre in 2017. We have also successfully staged an exhibition titled, 'As We See It: History Through Visual Design' at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia, with grant from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The News Straits Times wrote a feature piece on Malaysia Design Archive on 9 Dec 2017 and also mentioned my role as an educator at UM. , (International), 08/05/2017 until 09/12/2017
  • Invited as a guest speaker to a public programme organised Galeri Petronas to share my experiences working as a researcher on Southeast Asian art. The title of the panel discussion is 'What it takes to be a Southeast Asian Art Curator/Researcher', (National), 17/12/2016 until 17/12/2016
  • Commented on the exhibitions held at the National Gallery of Singapore since it's opening in 2015 in a feature article 'Museum "can improve and grow"' written by Huang Lijie and published by The Straits Times, Singapore, (International), 09/11/2016 until 09/11/2016
  • Co-convenor of one-day public symposium Trade, Ties, and Transformation: Stories on Textile and Modernity at ILHAM Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Leading textile experts from India, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia, working in different areas of studies from art history to heritage to anthropology, met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of textiles in the region and beyond, (International), 14/05/2016 until 14/05/2016


(Name of Degree), (Name of Candidates), (Title of Thesis), (Academic Session)

  • Master Degree, Stephanie Saidol, CULTURAL HYBRIDITY IN MODERN ART PAINTINGS OF SABAH, 2016/2017