Event Recap | China, India and the Role of Art in the Asian Century

Watch the entire talk here

Reflections on Possibilities: Museum, Art and the Sublime
By Eddie Koh
Year 4, History Major 

I recently had the privilege of attending a thought provoking talk delivered by Prof. Prasenjit Duara, which centered on the idea of the “sublime” in Asian Art, a concept that he defined as the ability to master the “awesomeness” of the beauty in nature and thus conveying this in art. He explored this further with a brief comparison of the differences between the essences of sublime found in imperial Chinese art vis-à-vis modern Asian art.

The case-study he adopted was the ‘West Heavens’ China-India Project, which he noted embodies the prolific mix and presence of the sublime in contemporary Asian art. While the movement’s primary goal was to facilitate cultural exchanges between China and India, Prof. Duara pointed out that there were artworks and ideas generated by the artists and curators and critics that successfully re-captured the idea of the sublime.

For details on the different artworks of the West-Heavens Project: http://westheavens.net/en

One particular aspect of the talk that caught my attention was his mention of the ever present tension between the tendency of art towards freedom and the imposition of control over art through exhibition within certain confines, like the museum. Prof. Duara remarked that as a result of this, art exhibitions are appearing within public spaces, as an attempt to move beyond the traditional confines.

While he was referring specifically to art, if one extrapolates the idea to include the field of curating and museology in Singapore, the effects of such a change can represent a significant re-negotiation of the museum’s role and position in Singapore’s society. Should such a change ever take place, it will mean that the museum will no longer simply exist as a passive entity, quietly engaging with sections of the public who are willing to tread into its halls. It will morph into an entity that will actively, and even aggressively, reach out to interact with as much of the public as possible.

The museum, in this case, will cease to be a supplementary institution in education, becoming an active agent in shaping the minds of the public. While this amplification of the museum’s voice does much good in enlarging the museum’s role as a transmitter of knowledge, there is a need to be wary of the dangers such as the imposition of its own perspective onto the public.


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