Upcoming Events

London, Asia, Art, Worlds conference: Circulation & Encounter

Conference, Lecture – Hew Locke, Timothy Barringer, Devika Singh, Michelle Wong

  • 4 June 2021
  • 1:00 – 4:15 pm
  • This event is part of London, Asia, Art, Worlds, a multi-part programme of online events taking place in May and June 2021. It is envisioned as a murmuration, a series of interconnected papers, conversations, performances and interventions.
  • Zoom webinar

The Circulation and Encounter panel considers the modes through which we are invited to look, and the cultural consequences of our encounters.

Chair: Hammad Nasar (Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre)

13.00-13.15 Welcome & Introductions

13.15-14.00 Keynote: Hew Locke (Artist) and Tim Barringer (Paul Mellon Professor in the History of Art, Yale University) in Conversation, ‘East Indian West Indian’

14.00-14.15 Discussion and Questions

14.15-14.30 Break

14.30-14.35 Welcome back/Introductions

14.35-14.55 Devika Singh (Curator, Tate Modern), ‘A Third World “Predicament”? Ebrahim Alkazi and London-Asia Circulation’ (pre-recorded talk)

14.55-15.15 Michelle Wong (PhD Candidate), ‘Overlay Pages, Stitched Worlds: On Ha Bik Chuen’s Creative and Archival Practice’

15.15-15.45 Discussion & Questions

15.45-16.15 Optional breakout rooms for continued discussion

Paper Abstracts

Hew Locke

Growing-up in multicultural, non-aligned Guyana (formerly British Guiana) meant dealing daily with the cultural, political and religious complexities of a post-colonial society. Here the largest ethnic grouping consists of Indo-Guyanese descendants of indentured servants, followed by Afro-Guyanese. I grew up in the 1970s – a world of Flying Pigeon bikes from China and Tata school buses from India. I saw the Chinese State Circus and Opera. In the cinema, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, Mera Naam Joker and Haath Mere Saathi were hits – Amitabh Bachcan came to visit. Everybody celebrated every national holiday; Christmas, Paghwah and Eid. This is the soup out of which my practice has emerged, and my presentation will look at how these influences have impacted on my work.

Since I arrived in London aged twenty, it’s the international nature of this city, with its many ‘nations’, and its grouping of world-museums, that has been essential to my practice. London has been the place to process and understand the many aspects of my identity.

I explore the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and how different cultures fashion their identities. Artists with complex, hard-to-label identities have until recently been overlooked by the Art World. We were not an easy sell – we didn’t fit into any box.

Devika Singh

The paper examines the circulation, proximity and unequal encounters between London and Asia by focusing on exhibitions organised by artist, dealer and theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi. Born in Pune in 1925 to Saudi Arabian parents, Alkazi spent formative years in London in the late 1940s and later curated one of the main exhibitions of the UK’s 1982 Festival of India. Building on original research in Britain and India, the paper analyses Alkazi’s heterodox modes of affiliation and negotiation with modernism from a former colony.

Moving from the promotion of Western art in India to the presentation of Indian art in the UK, the paper is articulated around two exhibitions Alkazi curated; This is Modern Art, a suite of exhibitions of European art presented in Bombay in the mid-1950s, and Myth and Reality (Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1982), organised with David Elliott and Victor Musgrave. This exhibition, together with others then happening in the UK, sought, according to Alkazi, to ‘cover the Third World countries, and show their distinctive achievements and their predicament’. Moreover, for Alkazi and his peers associated with a critical Third Worldism, London and the United Kingdom more broadly served as sites of South Asian creation and self-fashioning as well as battlefields for artistic empowerment. Yet, although the Oxford exhibition operated a shift in Alkazi’s trajectory, the paper argues that both This is Modern Art and Myth and Reality foregrounded the vexed and contested issues of synchronicity and derivativeness – issues that continue to haunt Asian art in British museum and art historical discourses today.

Michelle Wong

This paper forms part of my ongoing PhD investigation into the art and archive practice of the late Hong Kong artist Ha Bik Chuen (b. 1925, Guangdong, d. 2009, Hong Kong). A self-taught artist who never received academic training, Ha created a vast personal archive of Warburgian quality that functioned as a world of visual references informing his oeuvre across print making, sculptures and book collages.

I argue that the position of Hong Kong as a port city and British colony until 1997, and its proximity to other regions within Asia, played a key role in shaping Ha’s visual world. This paper focuses on Ha’s expansive library of books and periodicals that date from the 1950s to the 2000s, and considers how he positioned himself in the world through the consumption of publications and images. I will look at how through looking, archiving, and collaging across disciplines, Ha consumed and internalised an expanded world of art and visual culture that converged upon Hong Kong. Ha’s archive becomes a case study that shows how for artists in mid-twentieth century Asia, especially those who were self-taught, being interdisciplinary was an important strategy at a time when art traveling and art school training opportunities were scarce.

London, Asia, Art, Worlds is convened by:

Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre
Ming Tiampo, Professor, Art History, and Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research, Paul Mellon Centre

Image caption: Ha Bik Chuen, Collage binder titled "Collection of Sculpture.", page 43. Ha Bik Cheun Archive, Asia Art Archive Collections. Digital image courtesy of the Ha Family and Asia Art Archive

About the speakers

  • Headshot of Hew Locke.

    Hew Locke was born in Edinburgh, spent his formative years in Guyana before returning to the UK, eventually completing an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art in 1994. He has exhibited extensively internationally, and his work has been included in Prospect New Orleans Contemporary Art Biennial, New Orleans, LA, USA (2014) and Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art (2016). In 2010, Locke's work, Sikandar, was shortlisted for the Fourth Plinth, London and in 2015, he was commissioned to create The Jurors, a public artwork commemorating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, for which he was nominated for the 2016 Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture.

    Locke’s work explores the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, how different cultures fashion their identities through visual symbols of authority, and how these representations are altered by the passage of time. Public statues, trophies, weaponry and the costumes and regalia of state are appropriated in his sculptures, wall-hangings, installations and photographs in a continued deconstruction of state powers and histories. He is known for his portraits of the British royal family and traditional symbols of imperial authority. He uses ships as images, objects and physical sites for artistic intervention, discovering in them a potent symbol as an instrument of control in warfare, trade and culture. He has also initiated a series of altered share certificates, now-obsolete documents referring to this same violent, turbulent history of colonial trade, ownership and power, as well as subtly referencing the contemporary art world’s participation in commodity culture.

  • Tim Barringer headshot.

    Timothy Barringer grew up in Yorkshire and completed his PhD at the University of Sussex. After working at the V&A and University of Birmingham, he moved in 1998 to Yale University where he is now Paul Mellon Professor and Chair of the Department of the History of Art. His research focuses on questions of class, race and empire in British art, the art of the British Empire and of the United States. His books include Reading the Pre-Raphaelites (1999; new edition, 2012) and Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain (2005). With colleagues he has co-edited collections of essays including Colonialism and the Object (1998); Art and the British Empire (2007) and Victorian Jamaica (2018). He was co-curator of American Sublime (2002); Art and Emancipation in Jamaica (2007); Before and After Modernism: Byam Shaw, Rex Vicat Cole and Yinka Shonibare (2010); Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (2012); Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings (2018), Unto this Last: Two Hundred Years of John Ruskin (2019–20) and Radical Victorians (2019–21). His is finishing books titled Broken Pastoral: Art and Music in Britain, Gothic Revival to Punk Rock and Global Landscape: British Art in the Age of Empire, based on the Paul Mellon lectures given in London in 2019.

  • Devika Singh headshot.

    Devika Singh is Curator, International Art at Tate Modern. Her work focuses on modern and contemporary art and architecture in South Asia and the transnational history of modernism. She was previously Smuts Research Fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies of the University of Cambridge and a fellow at the Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art in Paris. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and was an AHRC fellow at the Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington DC; a Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) fellow at the Freie Universität, Berlin; an André Chastel fellow at the French Academy at Rome (Villa Medici) and a resident of the Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (OCA)’s International Studio Programme. Her writing has appeared widely in exhibition catalogues, specialised magazines and in the journals Art HistoryModern Asian StudiesJournal of Art Historiography and Third Text. Singh curated exhibitions including Planetary Planning (Dhaka Art Summit, 2018) and Homelands: Art from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 2019–20) and co-curated Gedney in India (Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, CSMVS, Mumbai, 2017; Duke University, 2018).  

  • Headshot of Michelle Wong taken by Luke Casey

    Michelle Wong is a PhD student in art history at the University of Hong Kong. From 2012–20 she was a researcher at Asia Art Archive, with a focus on Hong Kong art history and histories of exchange and circulation through exhibitions and periodicals. Her projects at AAA included the exhibition Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys at Tai Kwun Contemporary (2021), the Ha Bik Chuen Archive Project, and the Salima Hashmi Archive in Pakistan amongst others. She was Assistant Curator of 11th Edition of Gwangju Biennale (2016), and she independently runs the long term curatorial/collective project Sightlines with artist Wei Leng Tay. She was a 2019 Pernod Ricard fellow at Villa Vassilieff & Bétonsalon, Centre for Art and Research, Paris. In 2020, she developed a series of episodes around the deliberation of discursive justice with Lantian Xie and Kabelo Maltsie, as part of Afterglow, Yokohama Triennale 2020, artistically directed by Raqs Media Collective. Her writing has been published in Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, 1945–1990 (2018), the journal Southeast of Now (2019), Oncurating and Ocula Magazine.