When the Slade School of Fine Art was established in 1871 within the University College of London, it joined an institution that was the first university in England to admit students from around the world regardless of race or religion, and thus became an important site for the education of ambitious students from the colonised world.   

In this talk, Ming Tiampo discusses how artists from Asia came to the Slade, confronted their new environment, and endeavoured to co-constitute worlds alongside their professors and fellow students. Encountering a faculty focused on observational realism rather than style, an art historical curriculum that was Eurocentric but not formalist, an ambient environment of postwar modernism, London’s excellent collections of global art, and classmates from other parts of the world, these students critically engaged with a conjunctural problem space that was constituted historically, politically, and artistically.

Through an analysis that connects the histories of artists from several decolonising contexts at their points of intersection with the Slade, this lecture argues for an understanding of decolonial modernism as a transversal phenomenon rather than as separate, disconnected “multiple modernisms.” The lecture addresses three generations of artists: firstly, Postcolonial nation builders such as Zainul Abedin (East Pakistan/Bangladesh), Affandi (Indonesia), Shakir Ali (Pakistan), K. G. Subramanyan (India), and Jamila Zaidi (Pakistan). Secondly, artists focused on the formal articulation of decolonial modernism such as Kim Lim (Singapore/UK), Anwar Jalal Shemza (Pakistan/UK), Tseng Yu (China/Hong Kong), and Wendy Yeo (Hong Kong). Thirdly, artists for whom student movements and revolution took on distinctly decolonial perspectives such as Vivan Sundaram (India), Chila Kumari Burman (UK), and Bhajan Hunjan (India/Kenya/UK).

This talk is part of a series of programmes for London, Asia, a collaboration between Asia Art Archive and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and builds on Tiampo’s research as the second holder of the London, Asia Research Award. Tiampo’s project also informs the “Pedagogy and Learning” stream of the forthcoming conference/events London, Asia, Art, Worlds, which she is co-convening with Hammad Nasar and Sarah Victoria Turner.

Image: Slade Class Photo, 1957, with Anwar Jalal Shemza, Ibrahim El Salahi, and Wendy Yeo. Courtesy of Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.
Image: Slade Class Photo, 1957, with Anwar Jalal Shemza, Ibrahim El Salahi, and Wendy Yeo. Courtesy of Slade School of Fine Art, UCL.

Ming Tiampo is Professor of Art History, and co-director of the Centre for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Carleton University. She is interested in transcultural models and histories that provide new structures for understanding and reconfiguring the global. She has published on Japanese modernism, global modernisms, and diaspora. Tiampo’s book Gutai: Decentering Modernism (University of Chicago Press, 2011) received an honorable mention for the Robert Motherwell Book award. In 2013, she was co-curator of the AICA award-winning Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Tiampo is currently working on three publication projects: Transnational Cities, which theorises the scale of the urban as a mode of reimagining transcultural intersections and the historical conditions of global modernism; Intersecting Modernisms, a collaborative sourcebook on global modernisms; and Jin-me Yoon, an Art Canada Institute book on the diasporic Korean-Canadian artist. Tiampo is an associate member at ICI Berlin; a member of the Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational Advisory Board; a fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art on the London, Asia project and co-convenor of the conference London, Asia, Art, Worlds; a founding member of TrACE, the Transnational and Transcultural Arts and Culture Exchange network, and co-lead on its Worlding Public Cultures project.

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