Yu Jin SENG
Yu Jin SENG. Deputy Director (Curatorial & Research), National Gallery Singapore, Singapore
Years professionally involved in the contemporary art museum field: 16 years
Short bio. Describe also your involvement with CIMAM and the museum community:
Seng Yu Jin is a Senior Curator and Deputy Director (Curatorial and Research) at the National Gallery Singapore. He was previously a Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts in the MA Asian Art Histories and BA Fine Arts programmes, and now lectures at the National University of Singapore’s Minor in Art History programme. He obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2019. Seng’s research interests cover regional art histories focusing on Southeast Asian art in relation to studies on diaspora, migration, and cultural transfers. He is currently researching on artistic activities and its histories, focusing on the history of exhibitions and artist collectives in Southeast Asia.
He currently sits on the Board of OH! Open House, an independent arts organisation based in Singapore that makes visible the hidden histories of neighbourhood and communities through site-specific artworks in unconventional public and private spaces. His curatorial experience in public art museums and independent art organisations enable him to negotiate the complexities of critically engaging with diverse publics, spaces and ways of working cross culturally. Adopting a comparative approach to curating has enabled him to further his research between regions such as East and Southeast Asia in the exhibition, 'Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia, 1960s to 1990s', while developing a curatorial framework for working collaboratively between museums including the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea and the National Gallery Singapore. This curatorial common ground was based on equal and open exchanges generated by collective field research, sharing knowledge and sensitivities to regional and local art historical intersections and differences.
His selected curatorial projects include 'Something New Must Turn Up: Six Singaporean Artists After 1965' (2021), 'Suddenly Turning Visible: Art and Architecture in Southeast Asia, 1969-89' (2019) Mori Art Museum in 2022, 'Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia, 1960s to 1990s' (2018-2019) at the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, South Korea, and National Gallery Singapore (exhibition awarded ‘Exhibition of the Year’ at the Asia Art Pioneers awards), the 'Singapore Biennale, If the World Changed' (2013). He co-edited 'Histories, Practices, Interventions: A Reader in Singapore Contemporary Art', and the soon to be published 'Intersections, Innovations, Institutions: A Reader in Singapore Modern Art' by the World Scientific (2022).
He co-authored Singapore Chronicles: Art and has published in peer reviewed art journals such as World Art published by Taylor & Francis and the Journal of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and art magazines like ArtReview. He has been invited as the keynote speakers at conferences organised by the Lingnan University, Hong Kong (2020) and, the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), Indonesia (2019) on exhibition histories in Southeast Asia. He has been invited as keynote speaker for an upcoming international conference organised by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 2022.
Motivation Statement: How can you contribute to CIMAM's mission and strategic goals by being a Member of the Board? (i.e strategy, membership, fundraising, governance, network in strategic regions, availability, knowledge or skills in a specific area):
The world has changed in a short space of time caused by the evolving pandemic, disruptions to global supply chains, increased risks of food security, the climate crisis and the uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine, as well as countries like Sri Lanka falling into economic and political crises. Have we entered a period of contestation between the forces of ‘globalisation’ and ‘deglobalisation’? Deglobalisation is characterised by an increasingly fragmented world (e.g. Brexit, Trumpism) marked by border controls, protectionist trade, and powerful nation-states exerting indirect and even direct intervention that destabilises the world order.
CIMAM as a global network of modern and contemporary art museums seeking to critically engage and respond to the evolving conditions of an emerging international contemporaneity plays a crucial leadership role that is magnified in times of global change. My curatorial work at the National Gallery Singapore involves planning a revamp of its long-term exhibitions based on the curatorial framework of ‘critical recoveries’ that calls to attention the invisible labour of women artists, decolonising art histories by questioning binary Eurocentric categories such as craft and art, and adopting new collection strategies to actively shape collections by focusing on previously overlooked areas. I envisage my contribution to CIMAM taking the form of working with museums to take an active role in adopting critical recoveries as a decolonial method to shape cultural discourses towards critical engagements with the Global South.
My research focus on how we can embark on comparative studies within and between regions marks a shift away from more recent trends to construct global art histories that struggle to capture the specificity of local cultural contexts, and the tendency to fall into the trap of Eurocentrism. CIMAM’s network can be harnessed to connect art museums around the world by focusing on forming a constellation of regions to explore shared histories, cultural transfers and as a method to decolonise museums and narratives constructed through exhibitions and discourses. For example, the Equator, an imaginary line that divides the world into two hemispheres has been adopted as a curatorial framework based on comparative regionality between Indonesia, India, countries in the Arab region, Nigeria and Brazil for the Biennale Jogja between 2011 to 2017.
I am able to draw from my networks of artists and curators in Asia to build on their knowledge, and share their perspectives with CIMAM. My familiarity with the challenges of diverse museum governance in Asia and the plurality of ways in which museums operate will enhance CIMAM’s global network and ability to reach out to art institutions that may not function in similar ways to Euroamerica. As a member of the Southeast Asia Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Culture of Taiwan, and Advisory Board Member for the Master in Curating and Art History, Lingnan University in Hong Kong, I seek to use my connections in the imbricated domains of art and academia to better contribute as a CIMAM board member in its mission to create platforms for cross cultural conversations through art.
Describe briefly the expectations of your involvement as a CIMAM Board member and how you envision CIMAM's priorities in the next years:
In an increasingly fragile and polarised world wrecked by conflict and economic uncertainties, CIMAM as a global organisation for art museums should focus on establishing platforms of mutual support to enable museums to make transitions towards new technologies such as the digital, the metaverse and the Web 3.0. Other urgent issues of concern include sustainability, the climate crisis, and for museums to remain relevant to audiences and their changing expectations of museums.
My involvement as a CIMAM Board member focuses on the role of museums and their impact on society. The transformative potential of museums to effect meaningful changes in society by making safe and brave spaces for critical conversations to place resonates with the theme of ‘The Attentive Museum’ at CIMAM’s 2022 Annual Conference. What constitutes a ‘museum’ and ‘international standards of best practices’ could be reconsidered and unpacked to explore alternative models of museum practices developed from different cultural and institutional contexts and conditions. The need for policies in museums that promote diversity, inclusion, ethics and more equitable representation in gender and ethnicity are areas that I hope to contribute to CIMAM.
The Museum Watch as one of CIMAM’s working groups is of particular interest to me as a responsive and immediate way to assist museums with urgent issues that require attention. My interest in the Museum Watch is to focus on issues of social justice relevant to museums and to give more visibility of issues facing museums in Asia.
The Annual Conference Contents Committee is also of interest to me as I will be able to draw from my understanding of issues that matter to museums in Asia that will benefit from discussions at a conference. Serving in the working groups will enable me to actively participate and shape CIMAM’s direction and priorities.