DR. SIMON SOON SIEN YONG
MY RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY
My research focuses primarily on 19th and 20th-century art and visual culture in Southeast Asia – although the region that I study is framed along two temporally and spatially expansive and overlapping corridors – the Indian Ocean and the Third World. I graduated with a BA (first-class honours) in art history from the University of Melbourne. I also have a second major in English Literature and read a lot of anthropology.
I then received my PhD from the University of Sydney under an Australian Postgraduate Award fellowship (thank you Australia Government!), where I wrote a dissertation on the spatio-visual practices of postwar left-leaning art movements in Singapore/Malaya, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines from the 1950s – 1970s under three awesome supervisors – Adrian Vickers, John Clark and Stephen Whiteman. Over and beyond research, each of them taught me many life-skills to find a home for myself in the otherwise cutthroat world of academia.
I have a broader interest in Asian modernities as a discursive method and in the broader field of art historiography (e.g. how is history being written? By whom and by what means?). Principally, topics related to how social energies are expressed through visual forms interest me. I do have a strong interest in examining art or cultural phenomenon through understanding them as intersections of history, memory, and mythology. Then, there’s also side interest of mine in modern architecture. Much more than critical thinking, I value imaginative scholarships on art and cultural histories that change our understanding of ourselves, the world and our relationships with one another.
I’m also a big advocate of open-access knowledge and sharing research information. I’ve created a resource guide on digital resources on colonial history of the Malay World and a map of photo studios in Malaysia and Singapore.
THE COMMUNITIES THAT I BELONG TO
I am a co-founder and editorial advisor of SOUTHEAST OF NOW: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, a peer-review journal published by NUS Press. I also spend a lot of time at Malaysia Design Archive, an archival, research and education platform on visual cultures of the 20th century. As one of the three heads, I do a lot of community-building work – that includes running workshops (Researching Colonial History Like A Millennial). I used co-host a weekly radio programme called BFM Night School where I get to invite all my geeky friends to come on air to talk about their obsessions.
Funnily enough, I have also started making artworks! My works have been shown in Warsaw, Yangon, Hong Kong, Dhaka, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Manila. I find art practice to be an important avenue for me to pursue research on a different level – and my art project provides me with opportunities to collaborate with other makers. I tend to focus on the adaptive reuse of historical images found in the public domain to explore their myth-making and story-telling potentials. I think poetically about this as shoring up colonial fragments and debris to produce a new understanding of our place in the world. Check out my work here and here.