Skip to content

The Politics of Art and Culture in Southeast Asia (individual papers)

Jana Igunma
British Library

List of Papers:

  • Living Museums: Fact, Fiction and Local Culture kept alive
  • Cinema and Foreign Policy: The Creation of Post-Colonial Self/Other and the Shaping of Cold War Strategy in Southeast Asia, 1945-1955
  • The Origins of  Indonesian Classic Exploitation Films:  The Dynamics of Film Production and Politics of Tastes in Indonesia’s New Order Regime
  • Re-evaluating (art) historical ties:  The politics of showing Southeast Asian art and culture in Singapore (1963-2013)


Paper 1: Living Museums: Fact, Fiction and Local Culture kept alive

Salinee Antarasena
Chiang Mai University

In the past few decades, a number of local museums around the world have experienced an inexorable decline in visitor numbers. Instead of giving up hopes and letting their attendance spiral downward, curators, scholars and administrators of themuseums in Thailand have looked at new approaches to reverse those slumping numbers, knowing they and the locals all have similar memories and experiences, and that the permanent exhibition galleries may no longer be enough; and museums, no longer be only a source where foreign people learn about one’s local cultures. This study offers some behind-the-scene reflections on how a handful of changes were implemented to the traditional-style museum, so as to allow the visitors to tap into the past experiences, to remind them that their past and the lives of people before them are worthwhile and have some sense of purpose or meaning. This study started with the belief that despite the profit gains from increasing visitors, such impression from the local museum—museum as a source of mental resilience and motivation—can mold the way local visitors feel about their past and their community; and this is important when the ASEAN community is fully formed, when there will be not only greater linguistic and cultural diversity between the member countries, but also within Thailand itself.


Paper 2: Cinema and Foreign Policy: The Creation of Post-Colonial Self/Other and the Shaping of Cold War Strategy in Southeast Asia, 1945-1955

Darlene Machell Espena
Nanyang Technological University

The primary objective of this paper is to examine the cultural dimension of Southeast Asian states’ behavior during the ColdWar. The underlying premise of this approach is that foreign policy formulation is not impervious to culture – that the processes by which states relate to one another are inevitably grounded in distinct cultural spheres. Through an investigation of the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states, I seek to provide a provocative alternative of understanding how and why these states navigated the Cold War the way they did.Using films as the primary analytical reference, I investigate what the dominant ideologies in popular cinematic products that circulated in the region illuminate concerning the broader cultural context, in general, and strategic cultures, in particular, of Southeast Asian states; how these films depict the Cold War, the major players in the Cold War (the United States, China, and the Soviet Union), and the role of the Thai, Philippine, and Indonesian states in the battle between the communists and the anti-communists; how popular films and genres impinge on the corroboration or rejection of particular discourses dominant in Southeast Asian foreign policy-making during the Cold War; and finally, how the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states, which were captured in and influenced by the popular films that were produced bySoutheast Asians themselves, shape the outlook of key policy makers in dealing with and coming to terms with Cold Warrealities in the region. I argue that the ideologies, (re)created, negotiated, and embodied in Southeast Asian films, reflected and influenced the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states. I further argue that Southeast Asian strategic cultures not only shaped the perceptions of Southeast Asians concerning international affairs,it also affected the manner by which they viewed themselves and others and consequently shaped their foreign policy decisions and international behavior during the Cold War.


Paper 3: The Origins of  Indonesian Classic Exploitation Films:  The Dynamics of Film Production and Politics of Tastes in Indonesia’s New Order Regime

Ekky Imanjaya
University of East Anglia

In Indonesia, popular Indonesian films, especially exploitation movies produced in Indonesia’s New Order era, are overlooked and underrated by most of film critics, film journalists, and film scholars.  This era has become notorious in its enacting of a state-controlled totalitarian system of government which dominated every aspect of life under the guise of security, development, and stability. In the film industry, the government applied sharp censorship and controlling all aspects of film production and  film organizations  to distribution and exhibition.

However, despite the ideological framing and state control undertaken by New Order regime, the production of low-budget B Movies persisted and mushroomed particularly from late 1970s to early 1990s, and is considered as  “The Golden Era of Indonesian Exploitation Cinema” by some global fans and scholars. Apparently, The New Order had several policies designated to rehabilitate the development of the film industry and support the import of foreign films. Ministerial decrees were enacted to improve film development with a focus upon a “quantity approach” or “audience approach,”.

This paper will look at how exploitation movies were understood and produced during the New Order era by  interrogating how  series of political policies shaped the production, (and, later, the consumption) of exploitation films, the kind of films that they were actually trying to avoid.   And lastly,  I want to investigate  why and how the films were produced for political reasons from series of political contradictions.


Paper 4: Re-evaluating (art) historical ties:  The politics of showing Southeast Asian art and culture in Singapore (1963-2013)

Yvonne Low
University of Sydney

In 2012, Singapore’s pre-eminent art historian, T.K. Sabapathy curated the show, Intersecting histories: Contemporary turns inSoutheast Asian art, in which canonical works from four Southeast Asian countries were shown with the intention to generate new research and perspectives on the works in the context of Southeast Asian art and art historiography. By locating the exhibition strategically in a university gallery, the show’s strong pedagogical tenor prompted and motivated investigation into the issue of consecration and gave the Singaporean audience the rare opportunity to examine the reification of select artworks and the works’ collection and exhibition history. Though this exhibition was merely one of several in the last decade to contextualiseSoutheast Asian modern and contemporary art, it was likely the first such exhibition (and scholarly publication) to reflect uponSingapore’s long history of institutional support for Southeast Asian art (which to date has the largest Southeast Asian collection of modern and contemporary art in the region) in relation to its wider historical and political connections with her Southeast Asianneighbours. This paper takes up some of the exhibition (and publication)’s key propositions with the aim to re-evaluateSingapore’s mostly political interest in and culturally ambivalent attitudes toward establishing itself as a cultural leader in the field of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. Using the exhibition Intersecting histories as a point of departure, it will examine the seminal role key institutions in Singapore have historically played in the shaping, disseminating and the institutionalization of a “Southeast Asian art”.