SEA, The Showcase: Viewing Southeast Asian Art from the Outside
Review by Farah Dianputri

My screen suddenly cuts to dark. There’s a cinematic suspense to watching the letters “SEA” fade in – a diagonal slash splits it’s typeface to half-mustard yellow, half-thorny blood-red pattern work. A map cut out of white, serrated pieces emerge in blackness, the land masses easing in and out, as I slide my cursor over the page.

SEA, The Showcase was launched on February 15, organised by two arts management students at Goldsmiths University of London, Musa Laode Norman and Marzio Bannoni. Bringing together artists hailing from Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines (their locations handily charted on an interactive map), the online show is a curious mix of traditional and new media. The curators don’t seem to be going for an expansive overview of emerging Southeast Asian art. Rather it’s about curiosity and difference. Many of the artists are also exploring what it means to be a Southeast Asian operating outside the region.

Time Passing: Angkot, Yasmine Aminanda
Nurin Exotic Asian Girl, Nurin Yusof

SEA negotiates the line between split identities and experiences in Southeast Asian Art. It shines through in the work of the Malaysian artists featured. Follow Yasmine Aminanda’s self-commentary riding in public transport, from angkot (an Indonesian shared taxi service) to London’s Tube. Heed the block letter narration of Southeast Asian history by James Ly. Browse through Nurin Yussof’s satirical facsimiles of red telephone box ads and deportation documents. All of these works frame lived realities as grounds for a revolutionary identity – an identity that resists categorisation and embraces cultural schizophrenia. Even the works that aren't rooted in the logistics of the real-world become playgrounds for similar alternate realities. From the dreamlike visions of a bygone Nusantara by Nadhir Nor, to the disembodied landscapes of Jia-An Lee, and Alya Hatta’s batik domes and palm trees submerged in sand, these artists take expectations apart and re-construct a world on their own terms.

Nine Days, Jia-An Lee

This interrogation with identity is a leitmotif that plays out in the other artists’ works in the showcase. Satya Cipta’s figures from Balinese painting dance between the sensuous and grotesque, as if a direct challenge to the orientalist tourist dream of Bali. Pyae Phyo Thant Nyo situates figures from traditional Burmese art in geometric blocks as a means of carving out their space against a faded black and white print background, as if they are trying to break through and reclaim their colours. Singaporean artist Benedict Yu’s “Descension” is based on a news report about “soldiers that committed suicide due to a multi-nationality crisis.”

Somya of Mount Agung, Satya Cipta
Untitled, Pyae Phyo Thant Nyo
Decesension, Benedict Yu

I spent some time as a youth advisor for an art festival that showcased creatives from the MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) region and diaspora. What I enjoyed most was seeing the camaraderie between creatives while working together to carve a space for themselves on an international stage and the conversations unpacking the successes and shortcomings of representation. I look forward to more spaces which allow for a similar dialogue about South-East Asian arts.

Ultimately, the closer you look at a region, the more differences you pick out than similarities. However, it’s precisely that aspect that makes the label South-East Asian useful. The islands and coastlines have always been permeable membranes promoting exchange in trade, language, religion and philosophical thought. Why not harness that historical precedence to move forward in the international art stage?

You can checkout SEA, The Showcase at or follow them on instagram @sea_theshowcase

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Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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