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Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia

The Dhaka Art Summit, Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM) at Cornell University, and Asia Art Archive, with support from the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative, launch a new research project entitled Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia. The project brings together a team of leading international faculty and emerging scholars to investigate parallel and intersecting developments in the cultural histories of modern Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

These regions have been shaped by shared institutional and intellectual developments during the twentieth century, including the rise of modern art practices associated with the withdrawal of colonialism and the consolidation of nationalism, the founding of institutions such as the art school and the museum, and increasing exchange with international metropolitan centres via travel and the movement of ideas through publications and exhibitions. Viewing them in terms of statist and national art histories obscures their analysis in a comparative framework. By contrast, this programme emphasises a connected and contextualised approach to better understand both common developments as well as divergent trajectories.

The curriculum will cover both core concepts and emerging perspectives from postcolonial, decolonial, transnational, transcultural, and global discourses, with seminar topics that range from art and social difference, creolisation, exhibition histories, postcolonial nationalisms, media and popular culture, multiple modernisms, pedagogy, and transnational networks, among others. Participants will be actively engaged in the sessions as experts in their own respective disciplines. By presenting two papers during the course of the programme, early career scholars will be encouraged to pursue their research informed by the theoretical and art historical contexts of this project.

By integrating presentations by participants with core faculty lectures, the programme is envisioned as a reciprocal process of learning exchange. Presentations will also take place at peer institutions in Hong Kong and Bangladesh, as well as at the Dhaka Art Summit. Field trips such as collection, museum, and modernist architecture visits and guest lectures will be organised during both the Hong Kong and Dhaka sessions. With the goal of optimising the impact of in-person workshops, virtual meetings will be held in addition to the respective Hong Kong and Dhaka sessions.

Emerging scholars from and with connections to Africa, South Asia, and/or Southeast Asia currently enrolled in a graduate programme in Art History, Architectural History, or Cultural Studies, or who have finished their graduate training in these fields in the last three years, were encouraged to apply. Twenty-one scholars were selected from a competitive international applicant pool. The scholars and their research proposals can be found on the right-hand column.

Building on the initial convening at AAA in August 2019, the MAHASSA curriculum in February will focus on methodologies and specific histories, through seminars, panels, guest talks, and field trips with core and invited faculty. Working closely with host and partner, Dhaka Art Summit, topics such as architecture, art schools, and the place of collectives will be explored in depth from a conceptual and practical approach.

This was a closed-door event. The open call for participation ended on 28 Feb 2019.

Image: Muzharul Islam, College of Arts and Crafts, Dhaka. Photo: Randhir Singh.

Afropolitan: Contemporary African Art as Paradox

Fri, 7 Feb 2020

Respondents: Simon Soon and Sanjukta Sunderason, Diana Campbell (mod.)

Art historian and curator Salah M. Hassan (Cornell University) delivered a keynote on contemporary African art and its global significance. Respondents art historian Simon Soon (University of Malaya) and historian Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Leiden) engaged with Hassan in a discussion on parallel developments that emerged in South and Southeast Asia since the 1980s.

Art and Hunger: Transnational Frames

Sat, 8 Feb 2020

Art and Hunger: Transnational Frames

Panelists: Elizabeth Giorgis and Sanjukta Sunderason, Noopur Desai (mod.)

This panel by art historian Elizabeth Giorgis (Addis Ababa University) and historian Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Leiden) explores the politics of famine in the context of anti-colonial and antiauthoritarian struggles in South Asia and North Africa, and how competing narratives of nationalism were articulated through social realism and abstraction in response to Bengal (1943), Vietnamese (1945), and Ethiopian famines (1984–85).

Modern Architecture

Sun, 9 Feb 2020

Modern Architecture

Panelists: Sean Anderson, Farhan Karim, Simon Soon, Nurur Rahman Khan, Sneha Ragavan (mod.)

This panel by architectural historians Sean Anderson (Museum of Modern Art), Farhan Karim (University of Kansas), architecture historian and architect Nurur Rahman Khan (Muzharul Islam Archives) and art historian Simon Soon (University of Malaya) examines modernisms as they played out in the built environment of the Global South. Panelists will discuss how innovations in domestic and urban life engendered hybrid building typologies and visual motifs that simultaneously resonated with universal modernist tropes, while incorporating local vernacular traditions.

Rise of the Art School

Mon, 10 Feb 2020

Rise of the Art School

Panelists: Ming Tiampo, Sneha Ragavan, Chuong-Dai Vo, Shaela Sharmin, John Tain (mod.)

This panel investigates the role of art schools as important sites of transcultural encounter, knowledge sharing, and art production during the modern period. By discussing case studies such as Santiniketan, Baroda, Dhaka and Chittagong Charukala, and Slade, among others, panelists will explore the relationship between pedagogy and community. Panelists include art historian Ming Tiampo (Carleton University), researchers Sneha Ragavan and Chuong-Dai Vo (Asia Art Archive), artist collective The Otolith Group, and Dean of Visual Arts at University of Chittagong and artist Shaela Sharmin.

Collectives from the 1950s to the Present

Fri, 14 Feb 2020

Collectives from the 1950s to the Present

Panelists: Melissa Carlson, Samina Iqbal, Dana Liljegren, Dhali Al Mamoon, Michelle Wong (mod.)

By reviewing four case studies: Pakistan in the 1950s, multiple sites in the 1960s, Bangladesh in the 1980s, and presentday Senegal, panelists will examine how artists fashioned modes of resistance and solidarity through new forms of collectivity. Here, formal and informal artist groups created frameworks for negotiating between international, national, and local agents. Panelists include MAHASSA participants Melissa Carlson, Samina Iqbal, Dana Liljegren, and artist and art historian Mustafa Zaman.

Reflections on Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia

Thu, 25 Jun 2020

Reflections on Modern Art Histories in and across Africa, South and Southeast Asia

Panelists: Iftikhar Dadi, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Elizabeth W Giorgis, John Tain (mod.)

Organised by Asia Art Archive in America, this panel gather four of the MAHASSA faculty members, Dr. Iftikhar Dadi, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Dr. Elizabeth W Giorgis, and John Tain, who provide an overview and share their thoughts on the impetus behind and outcome so far of this evolving project.

Programme Partners:



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