Rethinking the Impact of Women’s Histories in Asian Art and Exhibitions

8 December 2021, 5:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Yvonne Low, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Dr Yvonne Low, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Dr Yvonne Low, University of Sydney
Marni Williams, Power Institute
Dr Matt Cox, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Dr Leyla Stevens, Independent Artist
Dr Natalie Seiz, Art Gallery of New South Wales

This panel draws together art historians and cultural professionals to re-examine the past, present and future of women's art history through critical and self-reflective lenses. Three papers will address the visualisation and narration of women’s histories in Asian art and its exhibition across a range of contexts. Taking their latest digital project of a transnational feminist collective, Womanifesto Online Anthology, as a case-in-point, Yvonne Low and Marni Williams will explore alternative ways of telling histories and measuring their social impact. They urge a rethinking of conventional methodologies in the ‘doing’ of art history, adopting Womanifesto’s ethos of experimentation to develop new ways of presenting a community-led histories on a dynamic platform that is anti-authoritative, generative and open. The second speaker, Natalie Seiz, takes a self-critical stance in her evaluation of a previous conference paper presented in London where she had discussed the impact of an organisation, Taiwan Women’s Art Association. Seiz questions why, in seeking to reflect on the discourse of Taiwanese women artists and their contributions, the term ‘impact’ elicited a critical response from an attendee, reflecting on the original reasons behind its usage. The third paper is a joint discussion by curator Matt Cox and artist Leyla Stevens on the work Patiwangi (The death of a fragrance) as it is presented at The National 2021. The paper will discuss the recovery of marginalised Balinese women artists in the context of Australian museum collections and exhibitions.

PAPER #1
Enabling Women’s (Art) History: Womanifesto Online Anthology

PRESENTERS
Dr Yvonne Low, University of Sydney and Marni Williams, Power Institute

The nascent study of women’s art practices, and in particular women-led/women-centred art collectives, in Southeast Asia, has prompted a rethinking of conventional methodologies in the ‘doing’ of art history. As we take stock of the challenges around the recovery of women’s (art) history—spanning the social, political and cultural—this paper argues for co-designed, innovative methodologies and new ways of (re-)telling women’s pasts, presents and futures. Community-centred approaches will be explored through a digital publication-in-progress, the Womanifesto Online Anthology. An early experiment towards a generous model of academic publishing, this project addresses the ephemeral characteristics of the contemporary mode of artistic production and the diverse voices that often come together through art projects but can find themselves forgotten or excluded when histories are retold. The aim is thus to develop collaborative concept and content development between artists and researchers, and a dynamic platform to enable the research of women artists as individuals, and as part of professional art associations based in Southeast Asia. Low and Williams will compare their academic and publishing perspectives and consider how their work as part of the WOA editorial collective might inform similar recoveries of women’s history.

PAPER #2
Re-thinking Asian art histories through diasporic connections in Australia: A curator and artist in conversation

PRESENTERS
Dr Matt Cox, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Dr Leyla Stevens, Independent Artist

This paper will discuss the recovery of submerged histories of Indonesian women artists by Sydney-based artist Leyla Stevens and the politics of their representation within the Australian museum landscape. Two aspects presented in dialogical form arise from the commissioning, production and exhibition of Steven’s work Patiwangi (the death of fragrance) for The National 2021: New Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One derives from the curatorial position within the context of an Australian state institution, the other from the position of artist, simultaneously distanced from and collaborating with community in Indonesia. Rather than submit to a geo-politically determined reading of Asian art, this paper engages with the fluidity of objects, bodies and artworks operating in transnational and diasporic spaces while opening opportunities to remember histories imbedded in national archaeologies. Furthermore, with regards to Silva Spitta’s concept of transculturation that establishes the transfer of material and nontangible culture as generative of new forms of thought within receptor locations, this paper explores Steven’s practice as a means to recalibrate the spaces of Asian and Asian art within Australian Galleries.

PAPER #3
The ‘impact’ of Asian Contemporary women artists

PRESENTER
Dr Natalie Seiz, Art Gallery of New South Wales

In this paper I take a critical stance on a seminar paper I presented in London about 10 years ago where I had discussed the ‘impact’ of an organisation. Making a space of one’s own: the Taiwan Women’s Art Association and its impact on contemporary Taiwan was a presentation about a group that came together for an opportunity to have a voice in the male dominated art community. In seeking to reflect on the meaning and significance of the term ‘impact’ in the title of the paper, I will reflect on the original reasons behind its usage. As a comparison, I will examine an exhibition of work by women I curated at the AGNSW in 2018, Fearless. Contemporary South Asian Art. In deciding not to couch the exhibition in terms of gender, did the exhibition elude being considered ‘impactful’, especially because of the moment in which it was displayed – while Me Too was still gaining strength by late 2017 and before the more recent flurry of exhibitions by women in which gender has been strongly emphasised? Can the term impact be used today in a way that was not the same 10 years ago?

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Biographies

Dr Yvonne Low, University of Sydney

Yvonne Low specialises in the modern and contemporary arts of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Her research interests include colonial histories, cultural politics of art development, women artists and feminist art history, and digital art history. Yvonne has published over 40 books, peer-reviewed journals and exhibition catalogues, and is on the editorial committee of Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia. She holds degrees majoring in Art History from the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne. She is currently a Lecturer in Asian Art at the University of Sydney.


Marni Williams, Power Institute 

Marni Williams works across research and professional roles to support the communication of art-historical research to diverse audiences. She has 15 years’ experience working in arts publishing and for the last five has been editor and publisher at Power Publications, the academic imprint of the University of Sydney's Power Institute. She is undertaking a PhD at the Australian National University, Canberra, through which she is developing a ‘generous model of publishing’ that considers the potential for co-designed, multimodal and networked digital storytelling, when combined with digital humanities tools and methodologies, to produce community-centred research outcomes with social impact.


Dr Matt Cox, Art Gallery of New South Wales 

Matt Cox is curator of Asian art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where he is engaged with both historical and contemporary art. Most recently, he has curated Passion and Procession. Art of the Philippines (2017), Playback: Dobell Australian Drawing Biennale 2018, Walking with Gods (2019), A Promise: Khaled Sabsabi (2020) and co-curator of The National 2021: New Australia Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Matt has a PhD on Indonesian modern art from the University of Sydney, where he has taught subjects on contemporary art and has published widely on Asian art, architecture and photography.


Dr Leyla Stevens, Independent Artist

Leyla Stevens is an Australian-Balinese artist who works within moving image and photography. Working within modes of representation that shift between documentary and speculative fictions, her interest lies in the recuperation of counter histories within dominant narratives. Leyla was recently awarded the 66th Blake Art Prize for her moving image work, Kidung, which engages with Bali’s histories of political violence from 1965–66. Her work has been exhibited in Australia through artist run, institutional and regional galleries, most recently with a new commission for The National 2021: New Australian Art at the Art Gallery of NSW. She holds a Doctor of Creative Arts through the University of Technology Sydney.


Dr Natalie Seiz, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Dr Natalie Seiz is Curator, Asian Art, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and completed her PhD in the department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney in 2013. Her research dealt with emergence of contemporary women artists in Taiwan during the late 1970s – 2000s. Natalie has written for several publications and curated numerous Asian exhibitions at AGNSW including Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (2016), Beyond Words: Calligraphic Traditions of Asia (2016); Fearless. Contemporary South Asian art (2018-19) and In One Drop of Water (2019-2021).