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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Power Institute: Sydney Asian Art Series 2023

The series is co-presented with the Art Gallery of NSW, and convened by Olivier Krischer, with co-convenors Alex Burchmore, Peyvand Firouzeh and Yvonne Low.

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The Sydney Asian Art Series, presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of NSW, invites leading researchers from across the world to share their work on early, modern and contemporary Asian art. The 2023 series marks the beginning of an ambitious new research agenda entitled Cūra.

Over three years, the series will gather together scholars, curators and artists to interrogate the systems of collection, community and care that have shaped Asian art histories, and the practices and institutions that sustain them.


In 2023 (and in the next two years) the series will present three online talks by SAAS Global Scholars. The series will also host a Scholar in Residence, who will present their work live in Sydney, and undertake research on local archives and collections. In 2023, the series will commence its investigation of cūra via the idea of “collection” in Asian art history. Reflecting on collection as both practice and historical/institutional object, experts on Indian, South Asian, Thai and Chinese art and material culture will explore collecting histories and provenance issues, digital databases and the complex legacies of well-known European collections and collectors.


4 APR 2023 / ONLINE KAVITA SINGH: AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: INDIAN ARCHITECTURAL EXHIBITS AT THE V&A

As colonial regimes excavated and collected artifacts and disassembled monuments and transported them part-by-part to metropolitan museums, the promise they held out was of preservation: objects buried under the earth and buildings mouldering in the jungle would be rescued from the elements, from ignorant natives, from the ravages of time. In the museum, they would be kept safe for times to come. But the museum is not always hospitable to the objects it collects. This talk demonstrates this by tracking four significant architectural-scaled objects from India that were or are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum but can no longer be seen there.

15 JUNE 2023 / ONLINE YAEL RICE: ARTIST/MAKER UNKNOWN: HIERARCHY, BIAS AND THE MUSEUM DATABASE

Viewing museum collections online, one will find endless references to an “artist unknown”—or, in the context of objects made in India, an artist “unknown, Indian”—displayed prominently in the topmost registers of the webpages. Other metadata, like the work’s title, date of completion, and medium, typically appear below that. As “natural” as this informational hierarchy may seem, it betrays a clear bias for cultures and periods that privilege (or have privileged) artistic authorship over and above other facets of an object’s production and use. This talk examines some of the ramifications of these data flows, focusing in particular on the digital representation of objects from South Asia, especially today’s India.

12 OCT 2023 / ONLINE STACEY PIERSON: THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND COLLECTION OF SIR PERCIVAL DAVID

The finest collection of Chinese ceramics outside China can be seen in the Sir Percival David Collection gallery in the British Museum in London. Created by Sir Percival David (1896-1964) in the first half of the 20th century, the collection contains some of the rarest and most valuable pieces in the world today and is a benchmark for dating, identification and scholarship. In this talk, the story of David’s parallel lives will be recounted, revealing the extraordinary context in which his remarkable collection was created.

DATE TO BE ANNOUNCED SOON / IN PERSON SCHOLAR IN RESIDENCE MELODY ROD-ARI: "WHO OWNS BAN CHIANG?": REVISITED

Melody Rod-Ari will be the Sydney Asian Art Series' inaugural Scholar in Residence. Melody will be in Sydney to conduct research on local collections and archives, and to present aspects of her current research.

In 2008, American Federal agents served search warrants to five southern California museums as well as to two art dealers who had in their collections artifacts related to the prehistoric civilization of Ban Chiang, located in modern northeastern Thailand. Investigators who led the raids argued that virtually all Ban Chiang materials in the United States should be considered stolen property. Fifteen years later, the artifacts remain in storage in a state of “constructive custody". The objects are inaccessible to the visiting public, while remaining accessible to Federal agents so that when a decision is made as to their status, they can be returned to their rightful owners. Should objects in constructive custody be on display, especially if they are the only of their kind at an institution? If so, how can their provenance become a meaningful part of their didactic narratives? What responsibility do museums have to diaspora communities who also find meaning and ancestral connection with the same works?



Images: The Gwalior Gateway as the Entrance to the Courtyard of the Indian Palace, The Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 10 July 1886 / Svayambhhu (self-manifested) linga identified in the collections database online as made by an "artist/maker unknown (Indian)." Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994-148-59 / "US Federal Agents outside of the Bowers Museum" / PDF A821: Porcelain dish with overglaze enamel decoration, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722).



The Power Institute is a Foundation based at the University of Sydney dedicated to understanding the visual world, through art and visual culture. We support research, publish texts, and organise public programs.

The Power Institute would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land upon which the University of Sydney, and the Power Institute, is built. As we share our own knowledge, teaching, learning and research practices, may we also pay respect to the knowledge embedded forever within the Aboriginal Custodianship of Country.

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