The Impact of Geography: Towards an Australian Asian Art History

9 December 2021, 5:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Associate Professor Claire Roberts, University of Melbourne
Dr Chaitanya Sambrani, Australian National University

Session Moderators

Associate Professor Claire Roberts, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Dr Vanessa Russ, University of Melbourne
Dr Chaitanya Sambrani, Australian National University
Associate Professor Claire Roberts, University of Melbourne

Through an analysis of visual archives of key scholars, this panel focuses on the formation of Asian art history in Australia, the origins of which may be traced back to contact between First Nations people and travellers from islands of the Indonesian archipelago and émigrés lured to this continent by the promise of forging a visionary new society based on its location in the Asia-Pacific region. Art history departments in Australia, as in many parts of the world, were founded on the discipline as it developed in Europe and a widely accepted idea of art history as the history of Western art. Introductions to the history of art from other parts of the world tended to take place in departments of languages and non-Western civilizations. Papers will focus on Ronald (1916-1990) and Catherine Berndt (1918-1994) who in 1956 began to develop teaching and research in anthropology at the University of Western Australia bringing with them a significant collection of Aboriginal and Asian cultural material; Arthur Llewellyn Basham (1914-1986), Foundation Professor and Head of the Department of Oriental Civilisations at the Australian National University and Pierre Ryckmans (1935-2014) a historian of Chinese art appointed Lecturer in Chinese at ANU in 1970.

PAPER #1
The Berndts’ Aboriginal and Asian collections and the impact of geography

PRESENTER
Dr Vanessa Russ, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Ronald and Catherine Berndt came to Perth in 1956 to develop teaching and research in anthropology at the University of Western Australia. They brought with them a significant collection of Aboriginal cultural material that was commissioned from communities they had long-term relationships with. The original collections founded the Anthropology Research Museum which later became the Berndt Museum of Anthropology. By the 1980s they had established formal agreements that UWA would accept their collections and in 1994 their field notebooks and Asian collections were added to the Museum’s collections. The Berndts worked tirelessly to maintain the focus of the Museum on Aboriginal Australia. However, they were redirected away from Aboriginal Australia for their PhD studies to Papua New Guinea in the early 1950s. Their early work in places like Yirrkala and Milingimbi opened the door to conversations around the Macassan traders, Japanese pearling and international influence. The Berndts’ collection reflects their interest in Australia as a continent situated in the Asia-Pacific region with objects reflecting Indigenous cultural practices in Australia, India, Tibet and Japan. This presentation explores the importance of the Berndts’ Asian art collection in terms of its potential to reframe Australian art history through a lens Indigenous to place.

PAPER #2
A.L. Basham and the visualisation of South Asian (art) history in Australia

PRESENTER
Dr Chaitanya Sambrani, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Art History and Theory, Australian National University

English-born and trained at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, Arthur Llewellyn Basham (1914-1986) played a major role in the foundation of modern Asian studies in Australia. During his tenure at the ANU (Foundation Professor of Oriental Civilisations, 1965-1980), Basham pioneered the study of South Asian histories and cultures in the Antipodes. His keen interest in art and architecture led to the amassing of over 5,000 35-mm slides, each accompanied by an index card, that he bequeathed to the ANU upon retirement. This paper suggests that Basham’s visual archive (including the system of classification and value that underpins it) points to growing international consensus on the importance of studying the cultures of recently decolonised Asia. Basham’s career at ANU appears as a key element in this university’s foundational commitment to imagining Australia’s location within its geographical neighbourhood. Secondly, Basham’s classificatory schema for architecture from South Asia and beyond provides insight into the construction of India as one of the “fountainhead” civilisations of Asia, the other being China. Basham’s teaching archive points towards the establishment of Asian art history as a legitimate and worthwhile disciplinary pursuit at ANU and in Australia.

PAPER #3
Pierre Ryckmans and Ying Yin-Yung: Connecting arts’ histories

PRESENTER
Dr Claire Roberts, Associate Professor, Art History, University of Melbourne

In 1963 Belgian-born Pierre Ryckmans (1935-2014) arrived in Hong Kong, having spent the previous five years studying Chinese art and working in Taiwan, Japan and Singapore. He took up a position as lecturer in Western Art History at the New Asia College, Chinese University of Hong Kong. Ryckmans’ first trip to mainland China was in 1955. His Phd on the late Ming Chinese artist and theoretician Shitao was awarded in 1970, the year he was appointed Lecturer in Chinese at the Australian National University. This talk will examine the intersection of the life trajectories of Pierre Ryckmans and the artist Ting Yin-Yung (1902-1978) in Hong Kong at the New Asia College in the 1960s and later in Melbourne in 1976. Guangdong-born Ting Yin-Yung had studied oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. Through his work to establish the Guangzhou Municipal Museum Ting had the opportunity to study historical Chinese art works and took up brush-and-ink painting inspired by the freehand paintings of 17th century artists including Bada Shanren and Shitao. In 1949 Ting moved to Hong Kong where he taught oil painting and ink painting at the New Asia College continuing his pursuit of transcultural contemporary practice.

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Biographies

Dr Vanessa Russ, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Dr Vanessa Russ is a Ngarinyin/Gija woman from the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. She is the former Associate Director of the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia. Dr Russ has a PhD in art history from UWA. She has worked on multiple interdisciplinary projects and she has an extensive knowledge of Aboriginal art and culture from multiple parts of the country. She is keenly interested in understanding evidence-based interventions that uncover contemporary colonisation and its history in Australia; as well as opportunities to transform the concept of the nation-state with Aboriginal voices at the forefront.


Dr Chaitanya Sambrani, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Art History and Theory, Australian National University

Chaitanya Sambrani is an art historian and curator interested in modern and contemporary art in Asia. He has an MA (Fine) from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda, and a Ph.D. from the Australian National University. Chaitanya is principal author and editor of At Home in the World: The Art and Life of Gulammohammed Sheikh (Tulika, 2019). His curatorial projects include Savanhdary Vongpoothorn: All that Arises (Canberra, 2019), Place.Time.Play: Contemporary Art from the West Heavens to the Middle Kingdom (Shanghai, 2010), and Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India (2004-07).


Associate Professor Claire Roberts, University of Melbourne

Claire Roberts is an art historian and curator specialising in modern and contemporary Chinese art and cultural flows between Australia and Asia. She is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Claire received her PhD from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University (2006). Her most recent books are Fairweather and China (2021); Ian Fairweather: A Life in Letters (edited with John Thompson, 2019) Photography and China (2013) and Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong (2010).