DR. SIMON SOON SIEN YONG
|Visual Arts Program|
|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 (http://www.malaysiadesignarchive.org/), 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.