Art of post-socialist Laos: contesting the motherland, her past and future

Koshcheeva, Anna (2018) Art of post-socialist Laos: contesting the motherland, her past and future. Masters thesis, LASALLE College of the Arts.

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Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Title: Art of post-socialist Laos: contesting the motherland, her past and future

Since post-socialism (ca. 1991), official art in Lao PDR has imagined the nation through its past and tradition. In the past decade, parallel contemporary practices have appeared in Laos, dealing with urgent social issues of today. This thesis examines the evolution of these two parallel art practices in Laos, as sites of contestation of the image of the motherland, her past and future.
The introduction of modern art to Laos coincided with the rise of the nationalist movements amongst Lao elites from the 1930s. From its inception, modern Lao art became preoccupied with imagining the motherland, and adopted neo-traditional tropes. To unpack implicit and symbolic meanings in neo-traditionalism, an iconographic analysis is used in this thesis. The iconography of tradition in Laos is anchored in the centres of its visual production: ban (“village”: representing the rural folk population) – vat (“temple”: representing the Theravada Buddhist spirituality) – court (representing royal and high culture) – ritual (representing cyclical notions of time, national memory and social hierarchy) – ethnicities (representing minorities and hill tribe peoples). By including or omitting these symbols in the conception of the nation, its subjectivity can be manipulated. Choices of iconography can be ideologically informed.
This thesis argues that in the 1990s, neo-traditional art convened the iconography of ban-ritual-ethnicity to present the nation as timeless festive multiethnic village. This image promoted the idea of resilience of Lao culture and soothed the anxieties of transitioning to post-socialism. This image was also successful in fostering new political alignments upon the fall of the Second World at cultural diplomacy events.
Neo-traditional art of later post-socialism in today’s Laos has a different notion. Through the dominant iconography of female-vista-ethnicity it renders the mother-land as gendered, objectified, passive and ahistorical. The legitimization of power in Laos is narrated through the nation’s dependence on the past and need for cultural protection by the masculine rule. References to court or vat remain taboo in official art.
The late post-socialist neo-traditional idea of the nation gazing backwards in time and denied of agency is resisted by the parallel contemporary practices. These artworks destabilize the monopoly of official iconography, and act as sites of critical thinking on Lao conditions today and tomorrow.

Subjects: Art History
Divisions: Faculty of Fine Arts > Master - Asian Art Histories
Depositing User: Ms Ashalatha Krishnan
Date Deposited: 13 May 2019 07:09
Last Modified: 13 May 2019 07:09
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