Annie Jael Kwan is a curator and researcher whose exhibition-making, programming, publication and teaching practice is located at the intersection of contemporary art, cultural and pedagogical activism with an interest in archives, feminist, queer and alternative histories, technologies, futures and knowledges, collective practice and solidarity. She is founder of Something Human, a curatorial platform focusing on intersectional live art that launched the landmark Southeast Asia Performance Collection in London in 2017, is co-founder of Asia-Art-Activism, the research network in residence at Raven Row from 2018- 2021. She is the recipient of a Diverse Actions Leadership Award 2019, and the founding council member of Asia Forum 2021/2022.
SELECTED CURATORIAL PROJECTS 2017 – PRESENT
SOUTHEAST ASIA PERFORMANCE COLLECTION, LADA, UK 2017
M.A.P 2017: Production photo from ‘I am LGB’ (2016), The LGB Society of Mind. Singapore International Festival of Arts 2016. Photo by Wan Zhong Ha
Something Human (co-directed by Annie Jael Kwan and Alessandra Cianetti (2014-2018)) launched the pioneering Southeast Asia Performance Collection (SAPC) at the Live Art Development Agency in London during the 2017 ACE-funded M.A.P. (Movement x Archive x Performance) project that unfolded across three segments in Venice (with Diaspora Pavilion and the International Curators Forum), an artist residency programme with Sung Tieu exploring Vietnamese diaspora in London, and MAP3: Archiving ‘Asia’, a programme of performances, panels, and presentations that marked the inauguration of the landmark Southeast Asia Performance Collection. MAP3: Archiving ‘Asia’ was a two-day programme of performative interventions, workshops, presentations, and panels to explore the themes and issues that were connected with building this new archive and its relationship with its contributors within the context of London. Building an archive can be an act of resistance, of care, and of creating the possibility of a polyphonic narrative through a range of diverse resources.
Currently the largest digital collection of performance-based practices in relation to contemporary Southeast Asian art in Europe, the SAPC comprises more than approximately 27,000 digital items already indexed, including documentation (photographs, videos, audio recordings), artwork (photographs and videos), marketing materials, supporting literature and written interviews with the artists, and newer items awaiting the next phase of sorting. A significant part of the archive was derived from my 2016 research residency in Cambodia (with the support of the Artists International Development Fund (British Council/ACE)) and National Arts Council Singapore, which generated the collection of interviews and digital materials, and the generous donation from pioneering Singaporean performance artist, Lee Wen, of his entire digital collection. The SAPC, with a new Study Room Guide, is made accessible at the Live Art Development Agency’s Study Room in London for researchers, artists, students, and academics.
UNAUTHORISED MEDIUM, FRAMER FRAMED, AMSTERDAM 2018
Erika Tan, The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver (2017), shown at UnAuthorised Medium, 2018
Curated by Annie Jael Kwan, the group exhibition brings together works by internationally established and emerging artists who have deep connections to Southeast Asia, while also working extensively across the globe. Appropriating its title from áp vong, the Vietnamese secularised ritual of invoking the ‘dead’, the exhibition evokes the ‘ghosts’ – ‘glitches’ – in the archive. Through a range of artistic practices, including a variety of lens-based works, drawing and mixed media installation, the artists disrupt dominant systems of knowledge, reclaiming and reconstructing the erased, invisible and fictional to engage with the historical and contested paradigm of ‘Southeast Asia’. Artists include Korakrit Arunanondchai, Noel Ed De Leon, Ho Rui An, Vong Phaophanit + Claire Oboussier Studio, Vandy Rattana, Amy Lee Sanford Studio, Sim Chiyin, Erika Tan, Sung Tieu, Tuan Mami, Boedi Widjaja, Sau Bin Yap. Public programme and publication contributors: Panggah Ardiyansyah, Eva Bentcheva, Pamela Corey, Wim Manuhutu, Ong Jo-lene, Joanna Wolfarth
ARCHIV GALERIE 2019: ARCHIVES IN RESIDENCE – Southeast Asia PERFORMANCE COLLECTION EXHIBITION & PATHWAYS OF PERFORMATIVITY SYMPOSIUM, HAUS DE KUNST, MUNICH
Anida Yoeu Ali, The Buddhist Bug – Campus Dining, part of the The Buddhist Bug series (2009 – ongoing)
The exhibition “Southeast Asia Performance Collection” is conceived as part of the series ‘Archives in Residence’ which focuses on the relationship between the archive and the formation of history. The Southeast Asia Performance Collection is a digital archive and expansive research project conceived by the London-based curatorial collective Something Human, and compiled by an international team of researchers and curators in the UK and Asia between 2015 and 2017 that contains documentation of performance-based works such as live art, as well as urban and social interventions by over fifty artists from across Southeast Asia and its diasporas. This exhibition presents a selection of the collection’s video-documentation for the first time in Germany. Framed in terms of three interrelated thematic threads that run throughout the collection – “Aesthetics and Politics of ‘Publicness’”, “Contesting and Constructing Identities” and “Archival (Re)Activations” – the selected works reflect upon the archive’s exposition of performance networks and practices, particularly as they relate to the histories of Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines. Delving into the processes through which its current collection came about, the exhibition also constitutes a reflection on the dynamic processes and potential hurdles which drive the creation and maintenance of a digital archive of performance art. By highlighting the centrality of collaboration and camaraderie which have facilitated exchanges in contemporary art across Southeast Asia, the exhibition explores how the Southeast Asia Performance Collection eschews the creation of a definitive canon of performance-based art, in favor of initiating a series of non-hierarchical narratives which interject into the nascent knowledge of Southeast Asian performance practices within Europe. Bringing the ideas behind the exhibition to life will be an international symposium and curated program of live performances by artists Anida Yoeu Ali, Ho Rui An, and Noel Ed De Leon.
The international symposium “Pathways of Performativity in Contemporary Southeast Asian Art” on the first days of the exhibition casts a spotlight on the fascinating histories of performance practices which speak to the postcolonial, Cold War and politico-economic forces that have shaped Southeast Asia after the Second World War. It brings together renowned scholars and curators from the disciplines of art history, film and theatre studies, whose work explores the central role of performance in bridging the visual arts, theatre, dance, music and political activism in the region from the 1960s to the present. Curated by Dr Eva Bentcheva, Annie Jael Kwan and Dr Damian Lentini, in consultation with Sabine Brantl.
Asia-Art-Activism (AAA) is a cross-disciplinary and intergenerational network of artists, curators and academics investigating ‘Asia’, ‘art’ and ‘activism’ in the UK through research, dialogue, practice and collective work. Co-founded by Annie Jael Kwan and Joon Lynn Goh, AAA seeks to open up a conversation around ‘Asia’ as a contested paradigm, including its diasporas, migrant and resident communities, to attend to lesser known narratives of Asian artists and activists in the UK, especially that of Southeast Asian communities. AAA aims to question Asian/Southeast Asian invisibility within institutional narratives of British art and politics and to gain a greater understanding of alliances built with other artistic and civic movements including the Black Arts Movement. Underpinning this work is the belief that an intersectional approach resists the essentialist cultural identity politics, and pays attention to the sensitivities of class, gender, sex, age and so on. We hope to spend time together, bringing different perspectives and methodologies, to attentively address this important but under-researched field to develop future exhibitions, programmes and publications. From its inception in 2018, AAA has presented numerous activities in residence at Raven Row and across London and the UK, including mini festivals, research residencies, artist talks, round tables, performances, screenings, panels, radio and participatory workshops.
ASIA-ART-ACTIVISM: BEING PRESENT 2019
Documentation photos of performances for Being Present by Ada Hao, Bettina Fung and Nicholas Tee
Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery 2019
AAA Radio: A Series of Uncomfortable Conversations #1 – Bettina Fung, Ada Hao, Nicholas Tee, with guest Hammad Nasar, in collaboration with Cuong Pham.
In 2019 I curated the live art programme, Being Present, in response to the exhibition, Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition, at the Manchester Art Gallery. This programme brought three live art interventions from AAA artists that connected to the exhibition’s themes around highlighting the oft-neglected contributions of diaspora and migrant artists to the wider narrative of British art history. Being Present featured newly commissioned performances by Bettina Fung, Ada Hao and Nicholas Tee. Following the programme, curator Hammad Nasar engaged in a dialogue with the artists and curator for the first AAA Radio programme: A Series of Uncomfortable Conversations, discussing the challenges in relation to working with collections and institutions for Asian, diaspora and migrant artists.
Upon the invitation of the Paul Mellon Centre, Being Present was re-curated and adapted as a programme of digital performances for its online journal, British Art Studies 13, a special issue on “London, Asia, Exhibitions, Histories,” edited by Hammad Nasar and Sarah Victoria Turner. Working with the editors and the team at the Paul Mellon Centre, we explored how the project themes of embodiment and presence might be manifested on the digital platform as part of the cover collaboration, and what it means for us as artists and practitioners, of Asian and diaspora connections, to be present together in the British art studies context in our contemporary era. The London, Asia project is funded and hosted by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (PMC), co-led by Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow, and Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research at the Centre, and was established in collaboration with Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive (AAA).
Image credit: Lee Wen, Journey of Yellow Man, 2001. Digital image courtesy of the estate of Lee Wen and the Southeast Asia Performance Collection.
AAA: RETURNING TO HOME 2020
As part of performingbordersLIVE 2020, “Returning to Home” is presented as a series of re/embodied workshops that focuses our attention to recognising, resetting and restoring. This series was first envisioned as a three-day workshop utilizing theatre skills in bringing together bodies in movement, play and intimacy. These months of compounded challenges of the pandemic, social distancing and isolation, the shift to the digital space, and the surge of rage at the brutal murder of George Floyd – opened up painful questions around what does it mean to be ‘present’ physically? What does it mean to be together? What does it mean to allow each other space to breathe?
Apart from being simply a substitute holding space, can the digital realm provide conditions that allow for deeper connections and even more radical transformations? Looking to other narratives where the physical body has been denied, negated, or de-valued, the workshop series have been re-made with the priority of sharing space, recognizing our many states of flux and being, redistributing our resources and attention to reclaim being-at-home with ourselves. Curated by Annie Jael Kwan with Whiskey Chow @whiskeyciao and June Lam @assignedfagatbirth
TILL-WE-MEET-AGAIN-IRL.WORLD, BEST WISHES ASIA-ART-ACTIVISM 2020
From October November 2020, AAA presents Till We Meet Again IRL, a programme curated with hopeful longing and through a process of emergent collective dreaming about how we might re-invent globalized and capitalist-driven relational structures that have proven dysfunctional and untenable. Till We Meet Again IRL shares a programme of online exhibitions, performances, reading sessions, workshops, live conversations, audio broadcasts, and a collection of videos with four suggested screening pathways. Featuring: Abdullah Qureshi, Adeline Kueh, Adriel Luis, Alfred Marasigan, Amal Khalaf, Annie Jael Kwan, Arianna Mercado, Arya Rinaldo, Bettina Fung, Caro Gervay, Cui Yin Mok, Cuong Pham, farid rakun, George Clark, Ghost and John, Hoang Tran Hieu Hanh, Howl Yuan, Jesse Jones, Joel Tan, Joon Lynn Goh, Khai, Larry Achiampong, Lynn Lu, Maiko Jinushi, Marque Pham, Minghe Hai, Nicholas Tee, Pei Chi Wu, Queer Bangladesh, Quek Jia Qi, River Lin, Rosalia Engchuan Namsai, Russ Ligtas, Sam Reynolds, ShayShay, Shaza Ishak, Sit Weng San, Songkun Wan, Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi, Tzu-Yun Liang, Vicky Truong, Vivian Lee, Yanzhen Wu, Yarli Allison, Youngsook Choi, and Zarina Muhammad.
Co-curated by Annie Jael Kwan, Arianna Mercado, Cuong Pham and Howl Yuan, with the generous support from Arts Council England and the Bagri Foundation.
SELECTED EXAMPLES OF KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION & PUBLICATION 2018 – PRESENT
AAA: MAKING TIME / TOOLS TO TRANSFORM 2019 – ONGOING
Workshop: Making Time – A collective timeline of Asian diasporic art and activism
Making Time was initiated by Joon Lynn Goh and Annie Jael Kwan as a series of workshops aimed at making visible Asian diasporic art and activism in the UK. Diasporic communities from across South / East / Asia have long circulated the British Empire’s wheels of production. Early settlements in the UK have been followed by modern and contemporary waves of migration, alongside struggles for safety, equal pay and the right to remain. These South / East / Asian struggles are part of wider Black, labour, migrant, decolonial and artistic movements that have shaped this country but are less visible in the popular imagination. Developed collectively with South/East/Asian artists, academics and organisers, the project aims to describe and connect less visible Asian struggles and alliances within British cultural and political history.
Developed in partnership with 7 other Asian diaspora networks across Europe, including Voices of Domestic Workers (UK), Healing Justice Ldn (UK), Jambatan (DK), Unthaitled (DE), House of Saint Laurent Europe (DE), DAMN*/Deutsche Asiat*innen, Make Noise! (DE) and The Six Tones (VN/SE), Tools to Transform aims to be a free-to-access online workbook publication for Asian diasporic artists, educators and activists residing in Europe. It will provide on-the-ground tools & strategies for building solidarity between inter-Asian diasporic communities, & between South/Southeast/East Asians and wider communities of colour to challenge overt & structural forms of racism exacerbated by the global pandemic. Funded by the European Cultural Foundation’s Culture of Solidarity fund.
Image from Small Time Chaos by Mo’Halla 2021
SOUTHEAST OF NOW: ARCHIVE 2019
SOUTHEAST OF NOW is an academic journal which aims to look and listen closely to the discursive spaces of art in, from, and around the region that is referred to as Southeast Asia, from a historical perspective. Co-edited by Annie Jael Kwan, Joanna Wolfarth and Fiona Allen, this special issue explores the ways in which colonial and postcolonial film and photographic archives have been rearticulated within a range of Southeast Asian political and aesthetic contexts. By combining insights from various fields of study, including art history, anthropology, film studies, and contemporary practice, the volume seeks to offer an interdisciplinary perspective on the debates that continue to surround the archive. This issue of Southeast of Now is available for free via Open Access on Project Muse, thanks to the generous support of the Chen Chong Swee Asian Arts Programme at Yale-NUS College and the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.
Image: Ho Rui An, Green Screen Studio, Medan, c. 1898, print mounted on acrylic glass with aluminum backing. Image courtesy of the artist.
ARCHIVING ART IN ASIA 2020
In 2020 I created this online curriculum for Cultural and Creative Hubs Vietnam, 2018-2020, a project co-funded by the European Union and the British Council, and implemented by the British Council in partnership with Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies. The module provides knowledge and engagement with critical ideas and philosophies in working with the archive. Drawing upon critical writings by cultural theorists and practitioners – the course expounds on the questions of power of knowledge and its materials. It explores how alternative archives might provide opportunities for challenging the status quo and a wider, democratic agency in the production and distribution of knowledge.
SELECTED ARTICLES 2019-2021
“Taking Space for Asia Diaspora Narratives,” curatorial essay for British Art Studies 13, 2019
“Gudskul,” ArtReview Asia, Winter 2019
“‘Taking space/holding space: curating-as-organising’ in a time of need for solidarity at Asia-Art-Activism,” commissioned essay for About the Future and Artist Initiatives, a text exploring the curatorial methodology of ‘organising’ in relation to building community and solidarity. Published by Club Solo 2020
“‘Winter Comes Early’: ruangrupa accelerates plans to upend Documenta 15,” Art Review, 24 December 2020
“Jesse Jones and Zarina Muhammad: a slow incantation: collective spell-casting, cosmologies and calendars,” Tactical Magic, Durty Words 2021
CURRENT PROJECTS 2021 – ONGOING
-curating Virtualising Queer Cartographies for Paul Mellon Centre June 2021, a digital programme with artistic projects utilising sound, moving image, VR and effects to create spaces for queer subjectivities
-curating Radical Ancestry: Genomic archaeology and futures (working title) at FACT, in partnership with CFCCA, a group exhibition including Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Yarli Allison, Boedi Widjaja, Miku Aoki, Ai Hasegawa
-co-curating Asia Forum 2021/22 with Hammad Nasar, Ming Tiampo and John Tain
-co-editing Asia-Art-Activism publication with discursive essays on Asia, art, activism after Covid19/Black Lives Matter
-co-editing Tools to Transform for cultural/community organising, Asia-Art-Activism in partnership with Voices of Domestic Workers, Healing Justice London, DAM, UnThaitled, House of Saint Laurent and Six Tones.
-co-editing SEON: Pathways of Performativity in/of Southeast Asia with Drs. Eva Bentcheva and Roger Nelson