IAVC / JVC Early Career Researcher Prize CFP (August 1 - September 30)

Early Career Researcher Prize

The International Association for Visual Culture and the Journal of Visual Culture invite submissions for their Early Career Researcher Prize. Current doctoral students and recent PhDs (within 5 years of degree) may submit original, unpublished essays on any topic related to visual culture. The selected essay will be considered for publication in JVC, pending revisions advised by the committee and the journal’s editorial team.

Final selections will be made by a group of IAVC and JVC board members comprised of Brooke Belisle (Stony Brook University), Jill Casid (University of Wisconsin Madison), WJT Mitchell (University of Chicago), Almira Ousmanova (European Humanities University), and Griselda Pollock (University of Leeds), and with the co-directors of the IAVC, Sara Blaylock (University of Minnesota Duluth) and Marija Katalinic (Humboldt University of Berlin).

Submissions of 5000 to 8000 words should follow guidelines and formatting for the Journal of Visual Culture. In addition to an abstract of approximately 100 to 150 words and 5-8 keywords, please include a brief biographical statement (approximately 200 words) indicating graduate institution, degree status, and current contact information.

Manuscripts should be submitted in Word or LaTeX format as a single running document (abstract, keywords, biography, essay) between August 1 and September 30, 2019 to VCEssayPrize@gmail.com.

Belonging everywhere and nowhere, but happy with our/their identity as Mixed-Race

When many people think of the word ‘racial discrimination’, it usually refers to a person being discriminated against for their racial background by people other than those from their own racial background. However, for many mixed-race, we/they are racially discriminated against in our/their own countries and societies as well as in other countries.

A very common experience for people who are mixed-race is that we/they are treated more like a foreigner rather than a local in our/their own countries. When we think of the term ‘identity’, people often relate it with national identity. However, individuals like myself who have been repeatedly told by societies and the majority of the human race that we are not fully of whatever nationalities we are supposed to be, it is hard to build a sense of strong national identity. Therefore, for many, being ‘mixed’ is itself a stronger identity than the nationalities or the countries where we/they are from. 

Sakura is a 26-years old Indonesian-Japanese, she shares her idea of how mixed-race is a culture of its own: “I consider mixed culture as ‘another’ culture, meaning that it is neither one or another - it exists as its own culture. The nature versus nurture debate could involve in every individual, but I personally believe that it eventually roots down to our identity as mixed-race. Languages are just ‘tools’ to switch from various situations, and perspectives are rather flexibly adaptable.”

However, even if we/they have experienced difficulties because of our/their racial and national backgrounds of being mixed, there are also many positive outcomes, and we/they are happy with our/their own identities and backgrounds.

Fernando, who is a 24-years old Italian-SriLankan expresses his ideas thus: “In the end, we may not fit anywhere but we can also fit everywhere. There are no borders for us since we already have been through the experience of not being accepted by our own societies. We don’t care to fit into the nationalistic idea of who we should be. We are who we are, and that means we are free to choose what we would like to be. On top of that, I have the luxury to be able to speak multiple languages and understand and enjoy multiple cultures. These are definitely positive outcomes for a mixed-race. I have the wonderful opportunity to meet people and value them for who they truly are, I don’t care what country or racial and national background a person is from, I care if the person is truly international in their mind.”

Laura is a 27-years old Japanese-Swiss, she shares her positive side of being mixed as the following: “All these experiences made me be more open-minded towards other cultures which I think is important and enriching. I understood that I am actually lucky as I have the opportunity of enjoying the positive sides and the beauty of both countries and cultures. This made me realize that I am actually a bridge between two lands - my feet are implanted into both grounds, I am a bridge of communication between two different cultures.”

Individuals who are mixed-race may encounter difficulties in being understood and accepted for our/their national, racial and cultural backgrounds in both our/their countries of origin as well as in other countries. However, our/their knowledge and experiences in multiple countries and cultures, together with the skill of speaking multiple languages, has led us/them to meet a great variety of people, have wonderful opportunities, and be able to understand and approach issues from a broader international perspective.

Lastly, I would like to thank my interview candidates, Sakura, Laura and Fernando, for sharing their precious experiences of being mixed-race.

By Chiara

What role can ‘visual arts’ and ‘North Korean refugees’ play for the future of the Korean peninsula?

Koreans are still living in a state of tentative war. This is because two countries, the Republic of Korea (known as South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (known as North Korea) arrived towards the end of the Korean War in 1953 at a ceasefire agreement, not a peace treaty.

Although as a South Korean, I have had no experience the war, I have many opportunities to hear and see its painful legacy. I had a few fellow students from North Korea in my university years, so I would sometimes hear about the tough process of defection, during which my peers risked of their lives. Interestingly, even though each of them had different reasons for deciding to defect, they seemed to form a bond of sympathy, since many North Korean refugees experience similar indescribable pain. Specifically, among the alumnus, Chun-hyuk Kang (강춘혁, 1986~) has been an impressive North Korean refugee artist as well as rapper in South Korea. Notably he made headlines in 2014 when he participate in a rap survival audition TV Show named ‘Show Me the Money Season 3’. In an interview with Hanuribiz (2017), he said: ‘I want to convey my story to help restore the homogeneity of the two Koreas as well as North Korean refugees like me through my arts as possible as I can.’

In addition to this, there is a North Korea Human Rights Film Festival (NHIFF) established in 2010 in Seoul, South Korea, to introduce and share the reality of North Korean human rights and the need for the reunification.

Further, the 2017 selected movie ‘Crocodiles in Mekong River’ was directed by Yoo-sung Park (박유성), a North Korean refugee. This documentary film shows the route of defection through Thailand of two young South Korean and two North Korean refugees in order to not only provide indirect experience of the defection but also to challenge stereotypes of defectors. (Many North Korean refugees are also participating in the NKHIFF as actors and writers, to name but a few roles that enhance the practicality of the festival.)

As well as the two artist mentioned above, there are North Korean refugees using painting, movie, books, appearances of television, YouTube and so on. In common, they are sharing their own experiences by utilizing visual arts to provide various assistance, from their human rights to the reconciliation of the two Koreas. In this context, what could we, each Korean person who grew up and live in different environments for nearly 70 years due to conflicting political ideologies, really contribute towards a peaceful reunification? Recently amid optimistic prospects for reunification pouring in and out of the Korean Peninsula from ‘the Pyeongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018’, we should seriously consider the role of ‘cultural unification’ based on the aforementioned visual arts to accomplish complete unification step by step. In the process, North Korean refugees visual artists and arts will able to play an important role like a stepping-stone by representing both sides.

By Naim Seo

'Still a Stranger in a Strange Land'

I was all at sea when I was given this topic, because the refugee issue seems to be a European one. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with my country, China. Of course, you must have heard about some political dissidents in prison or exile. For example, you may find that the artist Ai Weiwei, who is well-known in Europe, is hardly mentioned or taboo in China. But in fact, like you, from childhood to adulthood I know them by hearsay only. I would like to share some stories that are too political sensitive since what I'm exposed to is relatively detailed and objective information. It revolved around Shanghai in the last century.

Shanghai, known as ‘Oriental Paris’, is a city that has exerted a great influence on modern China. In 1840, the First Opium War broke out between China (the Qing dynasty) and the United Kingdom. Two years later, the Qing government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) according to which Shanghai and four other ports were opened to foreign trade and occupation. The formation of the settlement was founded on the separation of residence consensus between the Chinese and foreigners.

On November 19, 1845, according to the Shanghai Land Regulations, the British Concession in Shanghai was established. Later, the American Concession (1848) and the French Concession (1849) were set up. On July 1854, Britain, France and the United States established a joint concession but France decided to quit in 1862. On September 20, 1863, the British and American Concession merged into one (Shanghai International Settlement).

Outline Plan of Foreign Settlements in Shanghai(1907)   The French Concession and Shanghai International Settlement occupied 80% of the urban area of Shanghai.

Outline Plan of Foreign Settlements in Shanghai(1907)

The French Concession and Shanghai International Settlement occupied 80% of the urban area of Shanghai.

When the Small Sword Society Uprising broke out in September, 1853, Chinese citizens and foreigners began to mix together in foreign concessions since a large number of Chinese refugees rushed into them. Until the uprising to overturn the Qing Dynasty and reinstate Ming dynasty, which was finally put down by the army of Qing Dynasty backed by Britain, France (direct military intervention) and United States on February, 1855, China (the Qing Dynasty) has almost lost its sovereignty over the concessions which were actually states within a state.

The history of the concessions may help us to understand why Shanghai was the so-called ‘only place’ in the world that did not reject Jewish refugees during the World War II. Yeah, you definitely can see this or” It was a great friendship.” in a Chinese propaganda since China always wants to be seen as helpful and powerful. These arguments are certainly not completely out of the historical facts (compared with the once popular phrase, ‘Jews survive on the pancakes thrown by Chinese people’). But more importantly, what was the life of Jews in Shanghai? Whom (if necessary) should the Jews thank?

The White Horse Café   The White Horse Café was opened by Mr. Rudolph Mossberg, a Jewish refugee who came to Shanghai in 1939. It was an important gathering place for Jewish refugees at that time and reopened in August 2015.

The White Horse Café

The White Horse Café was opened by Mr. Rudolph Mossberg, a Jewish refugee who came to Shanghai in 1939. It was an important gathering place for Jewish refugees at that time and reopened in August 2015.

From 1938 until the outbreak of the Pacific War in December, 1941, about 18,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia have come to Shanghai, the only place in the world demanding neither visa nor financial documentation, to escape Nazi persecution.[1] They lived in Hongkou District (the International Settlement), which was actually controlled by Japanese after the Second Battle of Shanghai (1937). What was the attitude of the Japanese authorities?

During the Russian-Japanese War (1904-1905), Jacob Schiff, an American Jewish financier, lent $200 million to Japan to avenge the anti-Semitic Tsarist regime, which greatly contributed to Japan's success. Together with some disagreements between Japan and Germany, Japan acquiesced in the residence of Jewish refugees rather than finishing them off as its ally wished. From this perspective, the Japanese’s decision at that time ‘saved’ the Jews.

In the Jewish settlement, 307 stores were set up including outdoor cafes, bakeries, restaurants, bars and theatres, making a flourishing business district known as ‘Little Vienna’. Even in times of war, concerts, ball games and religious activities were still held there. Without hostility toward or prejudice against Jews or Judaism, the Chinese, for whom living conditions were often poorer than theirs, accepted them into their lives. In the Jewish Refugees Museum, there are scenes based on the dedications of some Jewish survivors. For example, the Chinese neighbors invited them to celebrate the Spring Festival, or someone sat in their neighbors’ wheelbarrow as a child.

'Tomorrow we would be starting a new life in a strange city, in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language, climate and people, where we would be safe and free’, said Evelyn Pike Rubin, the former Jewish refugee in Shanghai.

After the outbreak of the Pacific War, life for Jews in Shanghai became more and more difficult since assistance from all quarters decreased. With the new anti-Semitism policy, on February 18 (until May 15th), 1943, the Japanese army resettled 17,000 Jews into an isolation area called Stateless Refugee Settlement in Tilan Bridge, Hongkou District. Over the next two years, the Jews and about 100,000 Chinese living close by suffered from famine, hard winter and air strikes.

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum   The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was renovated in 2007. It consists of the former Ohel Moishe Synagogue, an important place for Jewish religious activities in Shanghai at that time, and two exhibition halls.

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was renovated in 2007. It consists of the former Ohel Moishe Synagogue, an important place for Jewish religious activities in Shanghai at that time, and two exhibition halls.

Finally, after September 3, 1945, when Shanghai was liberated, the Jewish refugees returned to Europe or to North America, Australia and South America with the help of their relatives and friends. By 1950, almost all Jewish refugees had left Shanghai.

There were two Chinese officials who risked their lives and careers to give the Jews hope for living. Ho Feng-Shan, Consul-General of China in Vienna (1938-1940) at that time issued visas to Shanghai to at least 3,000 Jews. Wang Ti-fu, then Board Member of the Puppet Manchukuo[2] Embassy in Berlin, issued nearly 5,000 passports to Jews. However, for the nature of Manchukuo he worked for, Wang was regarded as a trailer and rarely mentioned in China. In 2000, the Israeli organization Yad Vashemin awarded the late diplomat Ho Feng-Shan the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. Wang Ti-fu, a linguistic and diplomatic genius, the man who saved the most Jews in the world, died an unknown in 13th July 2001.

I share this piece of history to re-examine and explore the city where I lived for four years as an undergraduate student. And I find that neither at home nor abroad do many people know the connection between Shanghai and Jews. To cut a long story short, we can see that the truth may not be ‘great’. And compromise and survival are the only facts in turbulent times.

My relationship with Shanghai goes beyond the last four years. When our group of the ‘Mixed up, but in a good way…’ project decided to include the topics of immigration, home, belonging and so on, in addition to refugees, I had a strong desire for telling another story about Shanghai and mu grandfather.

My grandfather was born in April, 1939 on Ninghai East Road in Shanghai French Concession, near the famous entertainment venue Da Shijie (the Big World). He graduated from Shanghai Institute of Mechanical Engineering in 1961, and was assigned a job in Shanghai Institute of Process Automation Instrumentation. Under the planned economy system, all jobs were allocated according to national planning indicators. His life was very ordinary until 1965 when he and 159 colleagues were told to answer the Party's call to go to Chongqing, Sichuan province (southwestern China) and make contributions to The Third-Front Construction.

We believe that the Party's call is always correct and we should obey it.’ Of course, if they didn’t they would lose their jobs.

On March 22, 1966, the 160 young people arrived in Beibei, Chongqing and found that the place the leaders claimed to be ‘wonderful’ was actually almost a rural area. ‘My heart sank’. From then on, they started a life completely different from that in prosperous Shanghai.

Geographic division in The Third-Front Construction (from The Third Front Construction Museum in Panzhihua)   Blue represents the first front regions; green represents the second and orange represents the third ones.

Geographic division in The Third-Front Construction (from The Third Front Construction Museum in Panzhihua)

Blue represents the first front regions; green represents the second and orange represents the third ones.

From 1964 to 1980, China spent 205 billion yuan, moving a large number of factories (especially of heavy industry and military industry) and talents from the first and second front regions (the coastal provinces and comparatively developed areas)to the third front region (the backward western mountainous area). Getting Prepared against War and Natural Disasters has been revealed as the official motto. Despite of the background including notable deterioration in Sino-US relation (due to escalation of Vietnam War) and the Sino-Soviet split in 1958, the profound cause was the preparedness of Taiwan's counterattack (If it happened, it would probably turn into World War III).

How was their life going in Chongqing? They lived in a small, closed community next to their work unit where clinics, kindergarten, primary school, canteens and dormitories were all available. This place was remote, lack of materials and cooperation units. Employees were idle sometimes just because the work was hard to be carried out effectively.

The nightmare started when the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) broke out in May, 1966. Chongqing was in chaos during the Cultural Revolution. Production at the factories came to a standstill. In this absurd time when social legal system existed in name only, people split up into two factions (conservatives and rebels[3]) and attacked each other, guns and killings and massacres became all too familiar. In July 1967, my grandfather was one of those who managed to flee back to Shanghai. ‘I'd rather be dead than back to Chongqing’. But in October, he was back for the simple reason that he would lose his job and would have been depend on his parents for support if he returned to Shanghai. Moreover, food stamps were not available without a household registration.

My grandfather married a local factory girl, my grandmother in 1970 and later had two kids. The family of four moved to one of the apartments built for married employees. ‘We have leasehold rights, not property rights.’ Children of employees (most were male and married local wives) were born and grew up. They studied in the partner schools, began the same kind of life in the small community. Those born in Shanghai before 1966 have become left-behind children, not usually close to their parents.

The disaster of the Cultural Revolution finally ended after Mao Zedong's death in 1976. In December 1978, China implemented the policy of Reform and Opening up, beginning the transition from a highly centralized planned economy to a market economy. Some enterprises were reconstructed or moved to nearby smaller cities, but many went bankrupt.[4] My grandfather still couldn't go back (to Shanghai). Apart from the fact that some rural road builders at the time receive very little subsidy, there are few compensation policies for The Third-Front Construction contributors. Without the household registration (in Shanghai) qualifying him for the retirement benefits including medical insurance and pension, does not have and cannot afford an apartment, he suddenly finds that he would be in the edge of the city population if he returned to Shanghai.[5]

In 1985, the coupon-based supply system which has lasted for 40 years was cancelled. In 1993, the graduate job assignment system terminated. In 1995, the State Council abolished the welfare housing system and the employees were allowed to buy the apartments at a low price. In 1997, Chongqing was carved out of Sichuan Province into a municipality under the direct administration of central government. It is now an important industrial base, transportation hub and commercial city in China, a thriving megalopolis. Gone are the days when staff members carried bags and bags of chocolates, biscuits, cakes, fashionable leather shoes and tights (all not sold in Chongqing) every time they returned from a family visit (Shanghai).

My grandfather is just one of the tens of millions in the migration during 1964-1980. Most of the people (more than a million) from Shanghai who participated in The Third-Front Construction do not or lack the proper conditions to return in their sunset years. ‘After 53 years, I feel like I’m still a stranger in a strange land.’ They ‘live’ in Shanghai by retaining habits such as cooking Shanghai food, watching Shanghai TV Programmes and chatting with old colleagues in Shanghai dialect.

Searching for the Third-Front Construction on Chinese websites, you can see various descriptions of ‘a significant policy’, ‘the great spirit’, ‘industrialization and urbanization of China’, ‘merits and demerits’, but all I see is an old man who can never return to his hometown.

Night view of The Bund, Shanghai (2019)  The Bund, also called as the world Expo of architectures, used to be split and occupied by the British Concession (then the International Settlement) and the French Concession.

Night view of The Bund, Shanghai (2019)

The Bund, also called as the world Expo of architectures, used to be split and occupied by the British Concession (then the International Settlement) and the French Concession.

The latest story happened in a few years ago, some retired employees once suffered harm because of poor equipment and working conditions wrote a joint letter to claim compensation from the unit. My grandfather was one of them, because he suffered from tremors in both hands after being exposed to mercury vapor for a long time. He almost lost his sight 10 years ago due to optic atrophy. The lines he wrote with great difficulty arced down to the edge of the paper just like rainbows. And I will never ever forget the scene of his writing. Eventually these old people won and my grandfather got 14,000 yuan (£1600) in compensation. It seems to be the same as the youth of an ordinary man, if you'll pardon the expression.

By Kelly Wu


[1] In January 1940, about 17,000 refugees were registered with the Shanghai branch of Assistance of European Jewish Refugees (CFA). In December 1940, the number reached 20,000.

[2] ‘Manchukuo’ (1932.3-1945.7) was a Japanese puppet regime in Northeast China.

[3] The conservative refers to people who support the Party and government cadres accused of “taking the capitalist road” and the rebel refers to those who claimed to break the existing order and grab power as the proletariat.

[4] Relocation in disregard of the actual situation leads to long-term poor operation of many enterprises.

[5] In 2015, Housing Price-to-Income Ratio in Shanghai was 20.8, much higher than the reasonable 4-6.

The Work of Refugees in Museums

Accepting refugees living in mainland China has always been a controversial matter; it is not possible for refugees to gain Chinese nationality by any means. That said, refugees have become a group, a category of working-age workers globally, and their unique stories and experiences have become an indispensable part of museums and other cultural institutions. When I traveled recently to Berlin and visited the German History Museum, I met a museum tour guide who was a refugee from Syria. She worked in the Museum, introducing German cultural relics, and comparing them with objects from Syria. She said the war in Syria not only destroyed lives and separated families, it also destroyed homes, other buildings, and their heritage sites. People just speak about the war, she said, but nobody wants to know the history and cultural heritage of Syria. If objects are collected and displayed in museums, she said, they are safer than if they remain in war areas, so that people all around the world can come and learn more about their history and heritage which have been destroyed by war. After hearing this, I was deeply touched, and was reminded that every refugee is an individual who has her or his own story. Refugees themselves telling their own stories and the cultural history of their countries is more insightful and inspiring than the museum directly exhibiting the life of war zones and refugees. They can tell their story to more audiences and become the intermediary between artworks, artifacts, and visitors in museums. Doing so not only allows the public to pay attention to the marginalized minority, it also allows refugees to enter the museum and integrate themselves into the local environment, better to avoid social isolation.

Museums are platforms for promoting cultural exchanges and collisions in society, and also meeting points for culture, and can off-set some of the tensions generated by the arrival of refugees. For example, each month, museums in German hold two workshops, which target refugees and Germans; they start from the museum’s collection in order to understand the similarities and differences between national cultures.

Much like in Germany, Britain is also trying to encourage refugees to become more actively involved in contributing to their museums. Recently I read an article published by the Museum Association on the Refugee House, a project and exhibition developed jointly with refugees and asylum seekers, and staff at the St. Fagan National Museum of History in Cardiff in 2012. More recently, 2018 saw the Multaka Oxford scheme that planned to train refugee volunteers to plan, research and participate in museums, and aimed to help integration and cultural understanding by encouraging refugees and immigrants to explain their own cultural history to the public through Arabic and English. Because of the scheme, refugees became voluntary guides at the Oxford Museum of History. Personalized travel in the Pitt Rivers Museum combined with the Islamic Astronomical Instruments of the Middle East Textile Museum was also a part of the integration plan. Not only will this program help volunteers to integrate themselves into British society and develop their skills and confidence to find jobs and contribute to the UK in the future, it will also help to raise the public awareness of the contribution of the Islamic world’s science and culture, which is often ignored in British education.

In China, there is widespread concern about the economic and social crisis that refugees and asylum seekers bring to the country, but little attention has been paid to how refugees can be more quickly integrated into local communities thereby avoiding many ‘first contact’ challenges. In fact, refugees coming to a new country can bring the blending and collision of culture to it, and museums can act as an intermediary to help refugees better integrate into the local society and spread the culture and arts of their own country by their uniqueness.



The Outreach of Museums & Artists

Museums should be the places to display and discuss uncomfortable histories and realities. We must abandon our comfort zones and inspire audiences. To achieve this, exhibitions, often designed around a particular period or culture, also need to apply multiple but related narratives, using shared challenges and visions to extend its ‘community’ and arouse resonance. The Swiss National Museum once had an exhibition called ‘Displaced’ in 2016/2017. It used ‘illustrative biographies’ to address stories of displaced people who experienced violence, war and persecution. Visitors of the exhibition were enabled to put themselves ‘in the shoes’ of those displaced peoples, thereby exploring (at least to an extent) how they might feel having to escape their homeland.

‘Own history’ and ‘personal memory’ nowadays has also become powerful objects in museums. The artist Ai Weiwei followed the refugees’ path and collected 2046 pieces of clothes from the Idomeni Refugee Camp, forming the exhibition ‘Laundromat’. It captured the daily life of refugees, working as evidence to display the cruel reality that many refuse to see. These daily necessities are more likely to engage the audience and link different communities.

Then why would REFUGEES visit museums? And how can museums help them? Four Berlin museums - the Museum of Islamic Art, the Museum of the Ancient Near East, the Collection of Classical Antiquities and Museum of Byzantine Art and the German Historical Museum - started a project called ‘Multaqa: Meeting Place Museum - Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums’ in 2015 to train refugees from Syria and Iraq as museum guides. It established dialogues between different cultures and provided an opportunity to promote the integration of mixed groups. Under this circumstance, museums are more than just places for collecting and exhibiting; they are also spaces for learning, communication and identity building. Through interactive projects, from the bottom up refugees become the producers and co-curators of local museums. They can strengthen their sense of belonging and explore their life value in these new environment, integrating into local society better; simultaneously, more mixed groups, including refugees and immigrants, could be attracted to museums. On the other hand, local residents and even tourists from different countries and regions can have a better understanding of the mixed groups and work through and overcome misunderstandings and concerns as much as possible. After all, refugees are also ordinary people; they also have passion for life and dreams and aspirations for the future.

A piece of Tom Berry displaying at the Jewish Museum, London

A piece of Tom Berry displaying at the Jewish Museum, London

This piece of art portrays the life path of Bea Green, one of the children on the Kindertransport. It is storytelling, but it is more than storytelling; it is also the reflection of the current refugee crisis. Tom Berry uses the waves around Green to symbolize refugees, who are numerous but largely ignored. The artist, like Berry, encourages us to think more broadly about what constitutes displaced people. Artists today have a strong desire to face social reality that is not always humane. They to understand and reflect upon the world critically, and yet… perhaps because of this… their key message to their audiences and to future generations nonetheless still promotes tolerance and offers hope.

Museums have a natural symbiotic relationship with society. This reciprocity does not only exist in those glass cabinets; it exists in the entire space of museums. And the connection between museums and society is manifested not only in display, but also in interpretation and multiple engagement, paying more and more attention to current realities for everyone, in their uniqueness, speficity, and complexities.

Further reading is available here.

By Yanan Hao

The Translation of Chinese poetry

Is there a decline in the prestige of rhyme and form? Does rhyme seem ‘forced’ and ‘artificial’ in the translation of Chinese poetry? (Since most ancient Chinese poetry rhymes.) What is the smart way to translate and convey the aesthetics of original Chinese poetry?

Here we compare rhymed and unrhymed translations of the same Chinese poem. The original, let it be said at once, does rhyme.

This is a quatrain, in seven-syllable meter, each line having a caesura. The even lines of a quatrain always rhyme together, and the first line may also rhyme, at the discretion of the poet. The present example is not part of a larger set, but it does resonate with other Tang poems. We judge it on its own. Here are two versions of Du Mu's quatrain, each of which has a note referring to the earlier poem which sets the stage for his effort.

Translated by Irving Y Lo
Sunflower Splendor (1975)

Soaring into the distant sky, a lone bird disappears.
Ten thousand ages dissolve and vanish in this instant.
Look, where are the deeds of the Han empire?
The Five Mounds* lie treeless where autumn wind rises


Translated by E Bruce Brooks
Other Mountains (1993)

An endless sky without a speck,
a lone bird fades from view,
Here the myriad ages have
their final obsequies;
This is what the House of Han
comes to in the end -
Not so much as a single tree
to stir in the autumn breeze*

unnamed (15).jpg


The first version implies an obliteration of the distance between the poet and the Han Dynasty, whereas the original (like the second version) is concerned with the distance: it shows the Han vanishing into the past as the bird vanishes into space. The second version is more faithful to the form (including rhyme) of the original.

As to which version presents Du Mu with more point, force, and connectivity, the reader must judge.

See original text here

Photo and text edited by Meng

From Königsberg to Kalininrgad – The Talk of the Town

Last weekend I travelled to my home city of Kaliningrad. These home trips always evoke some nostalgia. With the present blog in mind, this particular trip made me think about how visual culture has the power to change one’s identity.

The notion of mixedupness pervades my whole life. I’m a Russian of Ukrainian and Belorussian origins from a formerly German city (before World War II), known today as a Russian city of Kaliningrad. I’ve lived in London, UK half of my life. I neither have any German roots nor do I speak German, despite my home city’s being of German origin. Yet, I feel that the city’s heritage has the power to speak to and influence its inhabitants with its unique architectural language.

Kaliningrad is full of controversy and diversity as it combines German, Soviet and Russian identities.

Its cultural controversy starts with the city’s name. Königsberg means King’s mountain in Old German. Kaliningrad, means Kalinin’s (a Bolshevik revolutionary) city in Russian. It was part of Germanic land (known as Eastern Prussia) for more than 800 years. It’s been a part of Russia for the last 70 years. Yet, no ethnic Germans remain in the region. Most left after World War II when the Soviets took over the city.

Despite the Soviets’ attempts to erase the city’s European identity, Kaliningrad’s architecture inevitably reminds one of German heritage.

Only fragments of German culture remain following the bombings during World War II. Yet, these remnants have become deeply embedded into Kaliningrad’s Russian and Soviet cultures.  

What immediately strikes one as a tourist coming to visit Kaliningrad is how Soviet austere building blocks clash with German Art-Nouveau (Jugendstil) and Brick Gothic (Baltic Brick) architecture.

Two main buildings dominate the cityscape – the fourteenth-century Gothic-style Königsberg Cathedral (restored in 1992) and the 1970s unfinished neo-constructivist House of Soviets. They are striking testimonies to political power dynamics.

Königsberg Cathedral (left) and the House of Soviets (right), Kaliningrad.  Source

Königsberg Cathedral (left) and the House of Soviets (right), Kaliningrad. Source

To me, the House of Soviets has always looked like a monster associated with the austerity and deficit I experienced as a child. The building is a brutalist block of concrete built on the remains of the Königsberg Castle, the very heart of the destroyed city. It states clearly who was in charge. Today, it serves as a reminder of the utopian communist ideology. Cold, empty, dehumanised, the House of Soviets tells us about a once ambitious project that has never been completed, that remains unrealised.

House of Soviets, Kaliningrad.  Source

House of Soviets, Kaliningrad. Source

On the other hand, the Cathedral, built largely thanks to the donations made by ethnic Germans, became the centre of local and tourist attraction. To me, the Königsberg Cathedral and the surrounding grounds bring out the warmest of my childhood memories since they served as a recreational area where people enjoyed picnics and festivals. 

Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad.  Source

Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad. Source

Another imposing building structure is the Russian Orthodox cathedral built in the modern city centre, further away from the House of Soviets and the Cathedral.

Built during the Putin era in place of the monumental statue of Lenin, it serves as another ideological tool - a reminder of who’s in charge today.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Kaliningrad.  Source

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Kaliningrad. Source

Despite the government’s attempts to promote Russian-ness, Kaliningraders openly embrace the Prussian German past. This attitude manifests itself in numerous landmarks built in pseudo-neo-Gothic architectural style, like the Clock Tower in the city square.

The Clock Tower (right), known today as Kaliningrad Passage, Victory Square, Kaliningrad.  Source

The Clock Tower (right), known today as Kaliningrad Passage, Victory Square, Kaliningrad. Source

These modern architectural pastiches are spread throughout the city. In fact, the so-called Fishermen’s village, constructed in 2006-2010 in pseudo-Hanseatic style, became a major landmark.

Fishing Village, Kaliningrad.  Source

Fishing Village, Kaliningrad. Source

I am not an avid supporter of pseudo-historical recreations. However, I admit that like many of my fellow Kaliningraders, I proudly embrace the city’s German past in favour of the colourless Soviet concrete blocks and propagandist religious edifices.

As I fall in love again with my city’s German heritage, I wonder whether it becomes my own…

United States of Colonizers

7/11/2016 5pm PST: I walked into the house I rented near campus. All eight of my housemates and four of their significant others were sitting around the TV talking and laughing. The banner running at the bottom of the map on screen of the USA predicted Hillary Clinton’s win. I felt a knot grow in my stomach, red spots were spreading across the country in big blotches as though each state was slowly contracting scarlet fever. I looked over at the people I considered my friends and was suddenly struck with an overwhelming feeling of otherness. They all had creamy skin and silky blonde hair, happily heterosexual, and no work experience. I was their opposite. My Filipino and Native blood have blended to make me a nice shade of caramel with chocolate curls cascading down my back. I identify as LGBTQ, and I have had a job since I was twelve. Pieces of their conversation filtered into my consciousness as I realized these differences.


‘I didn’t vote, it was too much work.’


‘I voted for Trump. It’s so funny.’


‘It’s not like it really matters anyway.’


Lying in bed that night I have never felt so alone, so ostracized. I know they did not mean to make me feel like an outsider. I doubt they even recognized the feeling pass in a shadow across my face. For the first time, I felt the differences between our identities open up a chasm between us. Living in Seattle, one of the most liberal cities in the US it had never occurred to me that the person sleeping in the room next to me would unironically vote for a man that would do me harm.


Two days later I was leaving the Starbucks by my house when a man began yelling racial slurs at me. He had read my name, Pilar, on my coffee cup and took it to mean that I was Latina. I am not Latina. I am Filipina, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300 years. My name, like my identity, is a product of colonization. As this stranger shouted at me others joined in saying that Trump would get rid of filthy people like me. Emboldened by anger and false confidence in my liberal surroundings I turned to them and told them where to shove it. They had been following me for two city blocks so I should have known that they had more on their agenda than just being loud racists. One of the men pulled out a knife and started making his way towards me. The reality of my situation hit me like a freight train. I am a small female; my full height is only around 154cm. I did the math. I was a small, bisexual, multi-ethnic female surrounds by six full-grown men. I was a walking poster child for a hate crime that would be written up by the US mainstream media as ‘a tragic accident’. Luckily nothing happened, the men left me alone after a few more sharp words -  I either wasn't worth the trouble or the fact I was standing in front of church leaned on their twisted moral sensibilities.


I got lucky that day. Lucky, they didn’t retaliate against my hostile response. Lucky, they didn't physically harm me. Lucky, I didn’t end up another non-white face on the evening news. From that day on my liberal bubble universe popped. I became acutely aware of just how deeply entrenched harmful and archaic Colonialist ideas were in America. America was built on the backs of imported slaves and the genocide of Native nations. The nation’s capital and hallowed halls were built by slaves. This hard work done by slaves, and the history and relevance of its native peoples is not however taught to our children in school. Instead, the harm done by colonialism has been rewritten by its descendants to form benevolent narratives that place slavery, civil rights, and native nations in the past. The narratives falsely claim that racism is a thing of the 1950s and 1960s, and that Native nations and their enduring traditions exist only in the past tense. These narratives ignore that Native nations are still fighting for their basic rights and the painful truth of Billie Holiday’s famous song ‘Strange fruit’ is still occurring. It is hard to speak of decolonization in America because the descendants of the colonizers are the ones running the country. The colonizers are still among us.


Decolonising - ‘If I were you, I would not write about any sensitive issue’

Last year, I was in Hongkong, working in a Korean government organisation there for several months. My job was doing research about the contemporary art scene and issues in art and culture. I needed to submit monthly reports to the organisation. When I arrived in the city, it was the middle of July, and, looking for my first story, I began wandering the streets, doing research. Fortunately, I encountered a big ceremony in the center of the Wanchai district. I figured out that it was the annual ceremony of Farun Dafa (Falun Gong, 法輪功, 法轮功), a religious group from China that have been seriously oppressed by the Chinese government for the last two decades. I’d once heard about the religion, and the event was really big, so I wanted to write about the ceremony for my report. So the next morning I started to write about what I’d seen, and tried to find some general information about the ceremony on the Internet but it was hard to find. It was so strange for me, so I asked my colleagues how and where I might find some information. Instead of answering my question, they asked me whether or not I had a working visa; and actually at that time I didn’t have one. They advised me not to write stories that the Chinese government might dislike, if I wanted to get a visa from the Hongkong government. After hesitating, I finally decided not to write the story, just in case. I guess, it might not be that sensitive issue, and I probably over-reacted, but recalling this pevious episode still makes me feel embarrassed. I think my decision was a kind of self-censorship, and the experience confirmed the extent to which my own mind has become colonised.


 Credit: An annual ceremony event of Farun Dafa. A picture taken by Hong at Wanchai, HongKong (July 2018)

Image selection and post written by Hong (To see Instagram post, please click here)

Decolonizing 4- Images from the United States

Image from Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via USA TODAY Network  In Charlottesville, Virginia 11/8/17 a group of neo-Nazis and White supremacists walked through the University of Virginia following a months-long debate over a Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many Confederate statues have come under debate over the last of years as the statues are remnants of racist ideals left by violent slave mongering colonizers that unfortunately still linger, persist, and are re-ignited far too often and far too easily.

Image from Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via USA TODAY Network

In Charlottesville, Virginia 11/8/17 a group of neo-Nazis and White supremacists walked through the University of Virginia following a months-long debate over a Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many Confederate statues have come under debate over the last of years as the statues are remnants of racist ideals left by violent slave mongering colonizers that unfortunately still linger, persist, and are re-ignited far too often and far too easily.

John L. Monroe/AP image taken from NPR  This is an image of Tonya Stands Recovering from being pepper sprayed by police. Stands and other protesters swam across a creek hoping to peacefully block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been highly protested and contested since its proposal in June of 2016 because the natural gas pipeline is to built on sacred tribal land and negatively impact the Missouri River, which is also the main water source for the Standing Rock Reservation. The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is not unique it is a centuries-old fight for indigenous people to protect the land and their rights from colonizers.

John L. Monroe/AP image taken from NPR

This is an image of Tonya Stands Recovering from being pepper sprayed by police. Stands and other protesters swam across a creek hoping to peacefully block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been highly protested and contested since its proposal in June of 2016 because the natural gas pipeline is to built on sacred tribal land and negatively impact the Missouri River, which is also the main water source for the Standing Rock Reservation. The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is not unique it is a centuries-old fight for indigenous people to protect the land and their rights from colonizers.

Photo by John Francis Peters NYT vis Redux and The New Yorker  The French artist JR’s newest art installation is a child peaking over Trump’s border wall in the Mexican city of Tecate to stare at US boarder patrol. The artist states that the child, Kikito, lives next to the wall and his inspiration came from seeing the child peak out from the slats in his crib while the artist chatted with the mother. Upon seeing a rendering of the installation the child’s mother stated “I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop thinking of us like criminals or rapists. I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.”   Quote from ‘The New Yorker', ‘The Artist Jr Lifts a Mexican Child Over the Boarder Wall’ by Alexandra Schwartz (September 11th 2017)

Photo by John Francis Peters NYT vis Redux and The New Yorker

The French artist JR’s newest art installation is a child peaking over Trump’s border wall in the Mexican city of Tecate to stare at US boarder patrol. The artist states that the child, Kikito, lives next to the wall and his inspiration came from seeing the child peak out from the slats in his crib while the artist chatted with the mother. Upon seeing a rendering of the installation the child’s mother stated “I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop thinking of us like criminals or rapists. I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.”

Quote from ‘The New Yorker', ‘The Artist Jr Lifts a Mexican Child Over the Boarder Wall’ by Alexandra Schwartz (September 11th 2017)

Decolonizing-3 Images from South Korea


04_Hong 1.jpg

Cranes and Peaches (Haehakbandodo in Korean)

Credit: The Honolulu Museum of Art (Gift of Anne Rice Cooke in 1927). Anonymous. Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), dated 1842 or 1902. Pair of six-fold screens; ink, color and gold on silk.

These six-fold paintings are estimated from the era of the Korean Empire which was the last independent unified Korean state. It is known that they were painted by anonymous artists to commemorate the entry of Emperor Gojong (r. 1863-1907) into the Society of Honorable Seniors (Giroso) in his 51st year (1902). This is one of the paintings that have survived from the imperial court of the Joseon dynasty. Unfortunately, they were taken and sold by Japan in the colonial era and this one is currently in the collected of the Honolulu Museum of Art.

(Referenced website: http://honolulumuseum.org/art/exhibitions/11387-masterpieces_korean_art)


05_Hong 2.jpg

Joseon Art Exhibitions

Image Credit: 『朝鮮』(朝鮮總督府, 1925), through the collection Information service of Seoul History Archive (Archive No. 75578)

This is a photography taken inside the Joseon Art Exhibition in June 1923. Korea was taken over by Japan from 1910 to 1945. During the colonized era, there were Joseon Art Exhibitions held annually as part of Japan’s culture governing policy. These annual exhibitions were held in Korea from 1922 until 1944. The exhibitions were meaningful because they were the first exhibitions open to the public as a competition format, however but they were limited since most of the jurors were Japanese, and the Japan government was involved in and controlled the artist’s artworks during exhibition process.

(Referenced website: http://www.museum.seoul.kr/archive/archiveView.do?currentPage=5&type=D&type2=&arcvGroupNo=2901&lowerArcvGroupNo=&arcvMetaSeq=25992&arcvNo=75578&realArcvGroupNo=2901&searchVal= )

Post colonial

06_Hong 3(1).jpg

Image Credit: National Museum of Korea. 3D view image of the exhibition ‘Goryeo: The Glory of Korea’ which is on display to the public from 4th Dec. 2018 to 3rd Mar. 2019 at the Special Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of Korea.

The National Museum of Korea is currently holding a special exhibition to mark the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Goryeo (918-1392). It is accessible to everyone on these days via website using a VR service. I also had a chance to try the exhibition online and I found some interesting wall texts, which I have reproduced below:

07_Hong 3(2).jpg

This list represents art organizations that lent artifacts to the exhibition (two museums in USA, three from the UK, two of Italia, and six from Japan) and the website also indicates how long each artifact will be at the exhibition. Probably some artifacts cannot be in the exhibition at the same time for contractual issues, or for other reasons. Above all, I felt that it’s a shame that our artifacts belong to these other countries, and that we needed to borrow them for this exhibition.

(Referenced website: https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/exhiSpecialTheme/view/specialGallery?exhiSpThemId=319757&listType=gallery )

Image selection and post written by Hong

Decolonizing-3 Images from Hong Kong

01_Cheong 1.jpg

Credit: The picture depicting the pearl hunting activity from the book ‘Tian Gong Kai Wu, 天工開物’, Image from the Hong Kong Museum of History 

Hong Kong was a small fishing town before the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1921). Most of the residence make a living by pearl hunting, fishing and incense making (which is also where the name ‘Hong Kong’ came from, and literally means ‘The Harbor for Incense’).

The Qing Government set up several military spots along the coast of Hong Kong Island to defend it from pirates, but governing the area was never their priority. People were left to their own devices, and the lives and properties of these people were not considered ‘important’ to the government. The place is important simply because of its location and for its military use, never because of its people and culture.

This raises a question, now that Hong Kong is part of China officially: when, historically, your ‘mother’ country never actually cared about you, is it OK for some people not to feel too attached to it?

02_Cheong 2.jpg

Credit: The Queen visited the local market in Hong Kong in 1975. Image taken from Apple Daily (Available at https://hk.lifestyle.appledaily.com/lifestyle/culture/daily/article/20130313/18192934), by Ng Pong Mui

During the colonial period, The Queen visited Hong Kong twice, and received a warm welcome both times (Hong Kong people sometimes call her the ‘Boss Lady’), and the place seemed to flourish under British rule. However, the number of riots greatly increased, and the society was never stable. The 1967 leftist riots marked the climax of the conflicts between the Hong Kong British government and the local groups (those with strong ties to Beijing), and was often viewed as a watershed for the emerging of the ‘Chinese/Hong Kong citizen’ identity. Interestingly, there are views held that social conflicts are not the only reason for the outbreak of the riot, and that the Communist Party had also done some work to speed up the process in order to gain back control to Hong Kong as soon as possible (Ming Pao, 2017).

 Retrived from: https://news.mingpao.com/ins/文摘/article/20170122/s00022/1485067969029/周日話題-「六七暴動」-遺害至今(文-程翔)


03_Cheong 3.jpg

Credit: The statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park was enclosed in preparation for the exhibition of Chinese Science and Technology. The red banner read ‘Congratulations on the 20th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Reunification’ (Note: the statue was nowhere near the exhibition venue). Image taken from Headline Daily (Available at http://hd.stheadline.com/news/realtime/hk/938007/ )

After the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, the start of decolonization had caused many conflicts among the local people. The implementation of a ‘National Education’ and the efforts made by the Chinese government to promote Chinese culture (more like an attempt to ‘erase’ the local, British-affected culture, in some people’s eyes) had raised concerns, because, while we are teaching our younger generation about the positive aspects of China, but how and to what extent should we teach them about aspects side of the country? (No government would like their people to know their bad side, after all) How should we prevent the children from being ‘brain-washed’ and keep our cultures and most importantly, our core value (such as democracy) unchanged? China is the mother country of Hong Kong, however, Britain was the one in power when Hong Kong’s economy and society flourished. Now Hong Kong is being returned to a completely different cultural background and system to mainland China, and its people are lost between the local, so-called ‘colonized’ culture, and the exotic, ‘original’ culture from a ‘mother’ about whom we know nothing (or perhaps too much).

 Image selection and post written by Cheong

Decolonizing-3 Images from Singapore

Current Day.


Image credit: The Straits Times. New statues erected beside iconic Sir Stamford Raffles statue along Singapore River. From Right to left, Sang Nila Utama, Naraina Pillai, Sir Stamford Raffles, Munshi Abdullah and Tan Tock Seng. 

Sang Nila Utama was a Palembang prince who first saw a vision of a lion and established the Singapura Kingdom in 1299.

Tan, Munshi and Naraina were among the first settlers to arrive in Singapore in 1819 and are widely regarded as pioneering leaders of the island's main communities.

Tan was a merchant, philanthropist and community leader who contributed to starting a hospital that is named after him.

Munshi was Raffles' secretary, interpreter and Malay tutor who documented key events in Singapore after Raffles landed, and is regarded as the founder of modern Malay literature.

Naraina was chief clerk at the treasury and a local leader of the Indian community.

The unveiling of these 4 new statues during the Singapore Bicentennial commemorates 200 years since Raffles’ landing and attempts to mark the contributions of a range of pioneers and early settlers. However, this is a narrative in question as recognizing the bicentennial inherently accepts the narrative that there was a start date for Modern Singapore and one that was characterized by the arrival of the British. The Singapore Bicentennial perhaps exposes the way in which the state thinks of itself and I think it is important that we make a conscious effort to probe deeper into the history as there can be much more to gather that will shape the way in which Singaporeans perceive themselves away from the colonial myths and I do believe many Singaporeans are indeed aware of this

Further reading: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/understanding-the-ambivalence-about-the-bicentennial-11039360

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/four-more-statues-join-sir-stamford-raffles-statue-along-singapore-river

Colonial Ties


Image Credit: The Straits Times. First Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew with his wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo photographed in Cambridge.

"Yet one of the most important lessons which he drew from the British - and one which, sadly, is seldom recalled today - is that independence neither required a complete break with the old colonial power, nor was an automatic ticket to prosperity.”—Jonathan Eyal, European Correspondent of The Straits Times.

Back in 1950, he reminded Totnes voters that the British were receiving at that time more money from Malaysia's rubber plantations and tin mines than war-torn Britain was getting in subsidies from the United States. Britain, he argued, had to pay attention to Malaysia and take the administration of its colonies seriously. It also had to prepare for life after the empire.

I thought that it was interesting to show and acknowledge that one of Singapore’s founding politicians had received his formal and political education from the British. I think this is an important perspective as an International Student from Singapore studying in the U.K. it is important to consider that perhaps decolonization happens on the daily. It is becoming an outsider to both cultures yet simultaneously in them allowing some sort of distance that allows a careful consideration of the pros and cons of each. Decolonization in this instance I would suggest is, in a privileged way, non-violent but rather a mental and emotional exercise in reflexivity and being vigilant against ideology. It is important to build on those ties that we have as I think the other end of the spectrum would be to adopt a nationalist ideology (as the world seems increasingly to be) and dangerously so if a people are inherently unsure of what their national identity necessarily consists of.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mr-lee-kuan-yew-had-close-ties-with-britain-but-was-never-a-colonial-nostalgic

On a personal level, I am not the biggest fan of our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the idolatry that surrounds him but neither am I ignorant to the fact that his policies were crucial and necessary in the formation of the country as it is today.

Further Reading:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/04/colonialism-work-singapore-postcolonial-british-empire



Image Credit: Goh Chiew Tong from Channel News Asia. Chinese coins from 13th/14th Century found at the Empress Place archaeological excavation.

"School textbooks say Singapore was founded in 1819. For generations, this has been accepted as the nation’s official start date, while many were taught that Raffles transformed the mangrove swamps into a bustling port.

“A 14th-century Chinese source said the people of Temasek lived on this hill, on terraces cut into it … implying that there were many people living here, not just the nobles. So it could’ve been already a large multi-ethnic group.”

This multiculturalism at work, however, contrasts with what he thinks has been “an emphasis, for tourism purposes, on marketing large blocks of areas in Singapore as though they were mono-ethnic”, when that “isn't true”.“There’s a danger that we’ll believe that artificial narrative, and then, by extrapolating from that, we’d assume that people lived in isolated blocs,"
The issue that is being presented here is one where historical facts seem to contradict existing state narratives. I think a big part of the decolonization discussion is about weighing up different facts and recognizing that narratives can and should change in the emergence of new information but most importantly, having the humility to accept and embrace these changes as they pertain to our sense of cultural identity. 
Link: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/search-real-singapore-story-beyond-stamford-raffles-bicentennial-11199116?cid=fbins&fbclid=IwAR3Ch-J2NIHZEE4Q3m2yuEp0tUNVLIJcrKKK7-2NhN_uuLld198HkDbEP8Q

 Image selection and post written by JJ

'Mixed Up, but in a good way...' A conversation about 'Decolonizing'

As the first group of UCL IOE Art, Design & Museology students to kick off the series, we want to acknowledge that we don’t claim to deal with the subject of decolonization with expert knowledge. Many of the claims we make here stem from a variety of positions: from personal anecdotes, and on to different readings we may make, or conversations we may have on the subject. We think this informality is perhaps a more interesting way to deal with the feeling of being ‘mixed-up’, and thus to open the conversation in ways that we don’t always expect when it comes to the subject, and hopefully that interests the readers here to begin having the same expansive dialogue on the subject as well.

In that spirit, we want to open the conversation we want to have over the next few weeks with, well, a conversation. Hopefully, through this we’re able to show some of the nuances of the subject as well as highlight our own uncertainties; that we may or may not go on to resolve over the next few weeks. 

The following conversation is contributed to by our group, which is made up of international students studying in the U.K.

Hong (South Korea)

JJ (Singapore)

Lanyi (China)

Cheong (Hong Kong)

Pilar (U.S.A)

Here are some of the excerpts from our first conversation as a group:

(0:50) Hong: I think there can be many kinds of colonization, so in my researchI have tried to discover some words relating to them. I am not sure if they are okay to use or not though. Out there at the moment, there is: self-colonization and re-colonization/ new-colonization. And also there is: un-intended-colonization, soft-colonization and renewed-colonization which seems to be the same as de-colonization, I guess.

We sometimes say that we have to re-write our history and I think that de-colonization can be a process for re-newing our history. I think we can think about some related words like these as a starting point.

(1:40) Pilar: There is a writer/philosopher/psychiatrist called Frantz Fanon, from the French colony of Martinique, are you guys familiar with him? He is really interesting on the cycle of the oppression that colonized places get sucked into: the colonizer comes in, they oppress and de-humanize people but then, what happens is that from that oppression comes assimilation, so, in the end, ironically, people forcefully try to assimilate into their dominant culture, yeah?

Cheong: Well to us in Hong Kong, decolonization is pretty violent, because Hong Kong… technically the Chinese government never actually paid attention to Hong Kong before British take over this place. The local culture in Hong Kong is based on British culture. Now, when the Chinese government try to give us their version of a new kind of authority or control over Hong Kong (governmental, educational, social services, etc.), we found that it is so different from us, from our own background. The Chinese claim that’s decolonization, but to us it’s more like colonization.

Lanyi: When Hong Kong talks about colonization, do they talk about decolonizing British culture? So are you thinking that British culture is already part of it? I think when we talk about decolonization, we should consider the original.. like.. when we talk about the Indian culture they were trying to take the British part off to go back to (before) when they were colonized. So does Hong Kong ever think 'about ‘going back’ to the culture that was established before the British rule?.

JJ: the British involvement in Hong Kong has undeniably accounted for some form of additional culture or cultural identity. I think It’s not so much like not going back to what it was like before, but also It’s more like giving it a chance to develop itself in a way. And of course that’s hard to do because you can never run away from your past, and there is always going to form a sense of who and what you are as an individual, a nation, etc. The thing is, we want choice and autonomy, the right as citizens to decide our cultural identity.


Lanyi: I think that’s the point. Because I think what residents of Hong Kong are concerned about is that they never have had a right to decide what the direction is that they’re going in, whether that’s under British or Chinese government control. Maybe they want to have their own culture, whatever that might mean!

JJ: I think there is a counter point there, quite interesting as well. Because for Singapore, we wanted get out from under British rule but the first prime minister was a product of the British education system. He studied Law at Cambridge so he was a product of the British education system. It’s really interesting because these traces still exist in Singapore. They have statues of Sir Stamford Raffles, there celebrating the founding of our civilization, in a sense. The whole narrative is: we were a quiet fishing village before colonization. I think this is funny because when we talk about ‘development’, it’s like the discussions about all these colonies is first and foremost economic, especially at this time. A lot of things happening are economically motivated, like neoliberalism and capitalized system and that they are effecting neo-colonialism.


JJ: Switching topics, it’s quite important to think of the different mentality of different colonial powers, right? For example, the British taught people in the colonies English right? Whereas, the Dutch were like ‘No, our language is reserved for the learned, we will never teach these savages (in Indonesia for instance) our languages’. It’s interesting to consider language as a form of leverage against dialogue between two cultures, right?

Lanyi: I remember last term, when we talked about the case of South Africa, and its efforts to deal with its colonial-era statues. Some statues have provoked protest because the figure was a hero in the colonial age, but in our post-colonizatial times, with calls for de-colonising, the ways these statues resonate has obviously changed. Is it still valuable to’ preserve’ objects and artefacts from the colonial era to remind us, daily, of its injustices?


Cheong: So we’re speaking about an attitude that we might take towards colonial history? Our conversation has definitely thrown up more questions than answers! Perhaps our individual posts over the next few days with raise these questions again, in new ways, and help us work towards ways of offering possible answers, however provisional.

3/3 (Notes from Marquard Smith)

Truth be told, I did actually ‘come out’ publicity once before, on 12th December 2018, during an event at the Institute of Polish Culture at University of Warsaw entitled ‘Image Lessons. Visual Pedagogies in Troubled Times’. I took that opportunity a couple of months ago to speak about the students’ ‘Mixed Up, but in a good way…’ project. Being in Poland for the first time, the country of my father’s parents’ birth, seemed like the perfect occasion for me to proclaim my German-Polish-Jewish-ness in all of its wonderful contradictions, irreconcilabilities, and, possibilities. My thanks to Iwona Kurz, Pawel Moscicki, Krzysztof Pijarski, Magda Szcześniak, , Łukasz Zaremba, and especially Katarzyna Bojarska for welcoming me ‘home’! 

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