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Art History Assistant Professor William Ma Receives Site and Space in Southeast Asia Research Award

Professor William Ma in Southeast AsiaArt history assistant professor William Ma won the Site and Space in Southeast Asia research award, a two-year funded research opportunity exploring the art, architecture, and landscape of Southeast Asia.

Site and Space in Southeast Asia explores the intersections of urban space, art and culture in three cities—Yangon, Penang, and Huế—through collaborative, site-based research. With major funding from the Getty Foundation and partners from within and beyond the region, Site and Space in Southeast Asia seeks to support innovative research in the art and architectural histories of the region, foster professional networks among early career scholars, and expand engagement with an ever more global field.

Engaging with cities as sites that generate cultural narratives, researchers will explore spaces of memory, interaction, and production across national and regional boundaries. With a chronological span from the colonial period through independence and into the contemporary, a period of dynamic, often divergent political and social development, Site and Space in Southeast Asia seeks to enrich the study of art and architectural histories of Southeast Asia through engagement with site and space.

“This is a great opportunity to extend my field of research into Vietnam because of its geographic and cultural proximity to the southern border of China and its deep French colonial history, a combination that serves as a perfect laboratory for topics I have been exploring in my work: interactions of different ethnicities and cultures, artistic hybridity created under the European colonial conditions, formulation of regional identities through artisan practices, and ideological claims of space and architecture,” Professor Ma said.

Over the course of the two-year research period commencing in June 2018, three small teams of researchers will be funded to conduct field and archival research exploring the physical and cultural histories of three project cities, with a particular interest in their artistic and built environments. Annual whole-of cohort workshops will allow comparative discussion of findings and mapping of future research directions. During the first year, collaborative research will allow a “coming to terms” with the city as site and its intersecting art historical themes. During the second year, researchers will pursue individual projects emerging from these themes. The project will culminate in one or more collective outputs to be determined through discussions with participants and institutional partners.

Ma’s research team includes two architects, two art historians, and a curator; the scholars come from institutions in France, Vietnam, and the United States. “I picked the team that is working on the city of Huế for its rich imperial and colonial histories,” Ma said. “For this project, I would like to situate some of the important historical sites within the fabric of urban life, especially when it comes to questions about preservation and conservation.”

With major funding from the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories Initiative, Site and Space in Southeast Asia is organized in partnership by researchers at the University of Sydney, Nanyang Technological University, National Gallery Singapore, the University of Malaya, the University of Toulouse, and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. While field directors will lead research teams in each city, the overall program is directed by Stephen Whiteman, Lecturer in Asian Art at the University of Sydney, with professors Adrian Vickers, Director of Asian Studies, and Mark Ledbury, Director of the Power Institute.

Ma said that the opportunity to participate in this research initiative came as a surprise. “I am delighted and excited to be working collaboratively with an international team of scholars from different fields on this project.”