Reading the Malay Archipelago by Syed Muhammad Hafiz

Date TBC

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    Exhibition view of Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, 16 November 2017–11 March 2018; Gaston O’ Farrell, Autoretrato of Juan Luna (Copy of Juan Luna’s self-portrait), Oil on canvas, 65 x 44.5 cm, Collection of Lopez Museum and Library; Karl Johann Bahr, Portrait of Raden Saleh, 1842, Oil on canvas, 86.5 x 71.7 cm, Collection of Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga, Latvia. Image courtesy of National Gallery Singapore.

    Made up of over 25,000 islands, the archipelago sits between modern-day mainland Southeast Asia and Australia and inevitably makes up a diversity of cultures and traditions. This course offers entry points to art enthusiasts in understanding the cultural and historical contexts to this vast geographical terrain.

    Your Destination:
    Gain a nuanced appreciation of Indonesian, Malaysian and Singapore art through cultural contexts that go beyond the art historical canon.

    Course Outline

    Session A:

    Section A: Encountering the Archipelago

    Taking inspiration from Alfred Russel Wallace’s classic 1869 publication Malay Archipelago, participants will learn how anthropology, colonialism and travel expeditions of the 19th century have largely informed our knowledge of the various communities and natural environment that make up this vast geographical entity. The act of ‘reading’ is also implicated in this knowledge acquisition process where questions like ‘how we read’ and ‘who we read’, might actually matter more than ‘what we read’. Topics covered include:

    • Visual traditions and mapping what we know

    • Colonialism and the birth of nation states

    Lunch break:

    Session B:

    Section B: Orientalism and the problem of ‘Other-ing’

    With the first session setting the grounds for our understanding of the archipelago, the second half will focus on some of the themes that have been taken up by artists and collectives, resulting from their own respective negotiations with history. Case studies will provide participants with a better understanding of the regional networks and movements that have shaped recent contemporary art discourses. Topics covered include:

    • Crafting traditions and ‘Fine’ Art

    • Art, Politics and Polemics

    Extended dialogue/Q&A:

    S$800 for the full day course. S$3000 for an all access pass to all our future programmes and advanced courses. 50% of your course fees will be donated to arts non-profit, Selasar Sunaryo Art Space.

    The price includes a set lunch and drinks.

    Every attendee of our courses is entitled to a free consultation with our team on starting or developing a collection.


    Syed Muhammad Hafiz
    Syed Muhammad Hafiz is an art historian who is currently pursuing his PhD at the National University Singapore. He was previously Assistant Curator at National Gallery Singapore and a researcher with the Singapore Art Museum. While he was with the museum, he co-curated the landmark exhibitions ‘Between Declarations & Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century’ and ‘Between Worlds: Raden Saleh & Juan Luna’. Since he left the museum, he has curated for several galleries in Singapore and Malaysia, and written for private collections in the region.

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