From Modernity to Postmodernity: Malaysian Art in a Century

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Monday, February 13th, 2017

Monday, February 13, 20172:00PM - 4:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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This paper examines the key narratives in the development of Malaysian modern art in the last 100 years. It will start with a discussion on Low Kway Song’s “Portrait of Man in Three Piece Suit with Orchid on Lapel” produced in 1917 and the art scene in Malaya prior to its Independence. Post Independence saw an exposure of Western Abstract Expressionism, albeit in a localized manner, on Malaysian art pioneered by newly returned Malaysian artists from their studies abroad. Such influence could be observed in the works of Syed Ahmad Jamal and Latiff Mohidin. However, the period of late 1970s and throughout 1980s has changed the previous trend, which marked a new turning point in Malaysian art, due to the implementation of the National Cultural Policy and Islamization Policy. Tis was followed by the decade of the 1990s that witnessed a growing Malaysian art scene that led to the produce of artworks that were indirectly conditioned by the ‘postmodern situation’. This paper will conclude with the works of selected Malaysian artists in the current Singapore Biennale: An Atlas of Mirrors (2016).

Sarena Abdullah is a Senior Lecturer at the School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), where she teaches Art History subjects for both undergraduate and graduate class. She has an MA in Art History from the State University of New York, Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A., and a PhD in Art History (2010) from the University of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Her research interests are contemporary Malaysian and Southeast Asian Art. She has numerous papers published both locally and abroad, and has presented at conferences in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, the United States and China. She is one of the Field Leader for “Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art,” a research project led by the Power Institute, The University of Sydney and funded by the Getty Foundation in 2015. She was the recipient of the 2016 CAA-Getty Travel Grant as part of the CAA-Getty International Program and will be part of the 2017 CAA-Getty International Reunion Program in February as well.


Rachel Ostep


Sarena Abdullah
Senior Lecturer, School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)

Main Sponsor

Dr. David Chu Program in Asia Pacific Studies


Asian Institute


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