University museums and galleries in Southeast Asia

A Design Weekend for young designers at Galeri Soemardja, ITB, 2010

We have just updated our links to university museums and galleries in Southeast Asia. Do explore ... and send us other relevant links we would have missed out.

Quite an interesting diversity of collections (and their origins) and programming. Broadly, these university collections initially started as either donations/gifts or departmental study collections, at some point consolidated and formalized as a museum collection, acquiring simultaneous roles for teaching, and performing a public/corporate function (facilitating public education and engagements with university benefactors). Evolving perspectives into learning, student opportunities and campus experience, and opportunities to engage communities beyond the universities, prompted the investments into infrastructures as museums became significant features. These broad characteristics need not be surprising, common in fact when we look beyond Southeast Asia.

Another common historical aspect perhaps requiring some highlighting is the fact that many of these museums are personality driven. Again, this should not be surprising, given the often fluid and evolving relations between a museum and the university’s immediate functions. The term ‘personality driven’ is not used in any pejorative way here, but rather acknowledging the crucial role of individuals in initiating, sustaining, and at times rejuvenating these museums. We should note the pioneering roles of Michael Sullivan and William Willets (University of Malaya Art Museum), T.K. Sabapathy (initiating the Universiti Sains Malaysia collection), and Roxanna Brown (Bangkok University’s Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum).

Lately, we are also witnessing significant attempts in reinvigorating older university museums through a systematic reassessment of institutional functions in relation to the evolving nature of universities, newer strategies of deploying collections, and engagements within and beyond the university. The efforts of Hasnul Jamal Saidon (USM), and Patrick D Flores (University of the Philippine’s Vargas Museum) should not remain unnoticed.

Developments of the Soemardja Gallery at Institut Teknologi Bandung requires some mention. Its operational model is unique. Although initially developed as an exhibition space for staff, students and graduates of the school, the Gallery is funded from proceeds of exhibitions the Gallery organized. It is somewhat sustainable, given the relative importance and prominence of contemporary artists presented (often alumni with strong ties to ITB), coupled by strong curatorial basis of such presentations. This newer impetus provided room to consolidate other critical interests. Its current director, Aminuddin TH Siregar, leveraged the emerging status of the Gallery to formalize a collection drawn from undocumented pieces placed in offices and departments of ITB, and assembled a dedicated team of gallery professionals. In recent years the Gallery had embarked in projects that contribute directly to an evolving understanding of Indonesian art history.

On the whole we should note the diverse contexts within which these museums operate.

Contingencies drive perspectives and strategies, and no doubt we will observe further developments … 

Ahmad Mashadi


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