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Art and Decolonization in Asia


Admission requirements

Open to students interested either in one or more of the following:
Visual Art; Asia; politics and political thought; South and Southeast Asia

  • The course is an elective for students of South and Southeast Asian Studies

  • Students from other programs are welcome: Any other Asian or Middle Eastern Studies program/s; Art History; History; Anthropology; Philosophy

  • Students outside these interests are requested to submit a note of interest by 25 August 2020 to the course instructor, Dr. Sanjukta Sunderason at, cc-ed to Studie Coordinator, Gerhard Jan Nauta.


Southern Asia (covering 18 countries across South and Southeast Asia) was a melting pot for colonial empires – British, French, Dutch. As these colonial empires retreated through a long decolonization process – from the 1940s and into the 1970s – the region got entangled with the politics of Cold War as well as Non-Alignment – while negotiating wars and violent redrawing-s of borders.

This seminar begins with two premises: first, colonialism as well as decolonial movements were productive sites where national, regional and transnational identities were being imagined; and second, art and cultural production – through its imaginative potentials became integral to visualisations of postcolonial and decolonial futures. The seminar will ask in particular:

  • How did art visualise the political movements and imaginations of anti-colonial nationalism, socialist and communist politics, anti-imperialism as well as postcolonial state-building?

  • How were the wars, genocides, and displacements that occurred along the trail of retreating colonial empires enter artistic imaginaries in the continent? And,

  • How did such visualisations across late and post-colonial Southern Asia interact with transnational movements of anti-fascism, socialist internationalism, or Afro-Asian solidarities?

To explore these questions, we will study visual art, (international) exhibitions, artistic journeys, state patronage, activist and propaganda art and artist testimonies, among others, from the vast region stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam in mainland Asia and across the archipelagic Indian Ocean world upto the Phillipines. We will combine questions of artistic form with those of political movements and decolonial thought in Asia during the climatic transitional decades of decolonization and the Cold War. We will also discuss what questions of artistic modernity emerge from twentieth century Asia through its unique exeriences with colonialism and the long decolonization. The course will put into conversation histories spread across scattered nations across Southern Asia and develop new connected questions to understand Asia without borders. This will form a critical step towards decolonizing the curriculum of art history.

The seminar is designed to make students with or without knowledge of art or Asia or decolonial politics familiarize themselves with these connected questions, and start formulating deeper cultural archive driven understandings of histories of transnational Asia. Students will be taught to analyse art historically and in dialogue with intellectual and political histories of Asia. All students interested in either art, or Asia, or decolonial thought and cultures – are welcome to join the course.

Course objectives

This course has the clear objectives of:

  1. Introducing students to the methods, materials and forms of combining studies of art with those of political movements and thoughts
  2. Combining perspectives from Southern Asia to global concerns and questions
  3. Declonizing the curriculum of art history
  4. Making students think in inter-disciplinary ways about specific themes
  5. Training students in ways of thinking, articulating, writing and presenting
  6. Training students in writing skills for shorter pieces (précis-s, webpostings etc) as well as essays and projects (including visual and audio-visual material)
  7. Helping students develop their own projects combining theory, archive and imagination!
  8. Training students in organizing seminars and academic events (the course will have an in-built component of student-organized and introduced film/documentary screening) and contribute to academic environment in the university.
  9. Teaching students how to develop and pursue concrete learning goals and working methods
  10. Providing professional “career” skills in the field – in this case, as historians, museum professionals, anthropologists, or artists, to name a few.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

This course is a seminar. It will combine hands on training in reading art, cultural texts and theory historical processes and political thought.

Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course

Assessment method

There will be a two-tiered assessment method:

  1. Class conversations, webpostings and presentations: 50% (through out the semester) These will include working in groups on webpostings and class presentations. Weekly webpostings of 500 words approx. (working in groups) will need to be submitted on Blackboard. Detailed instructions to be provided in class.
  2. Final Essay: 50% (to be submitted end-semester): The Final essay on a flexible topic – in conversation with the instructor – should be within 2500 words without bibliography.

Resits will be allowed only for the final essay (50% of the course)
There will not be any exams in this course.

Reading list

All literature will be provided in Seminar 1. No previous preparation needed.

  • Students are, however, encouraged to come to the Introductory seminar (seminar 1) with their own ideas about the theme of Art and Decolonization


Enrolment through uSis ( is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar. * For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof