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BA Spanish and Chinese / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Visual Cultures in China and East Asia

Unit code CHIN22521
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Chinese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course examines aspects of contemporary visual art and culture from China and East Asia, with consideration also given to overseas communities in South and Southeast Asia. Thematically structured, the module addresses four main concerns: (1) the influence of aesthetic traditions on contemporary artistic production; (2) the role(s) art and artists play in reflecting upon national/transnational socio-political issues; (3) the phenomenon of (East) Asian Pop-Art and the concomitant consumerism entailed by this phenomenon; and (4) the increasing impact urbanization has had on the socio-politico-artistic life-worlds across the continent. The “visuality” of course materials is stressed and extended periods of time will be devoted to considering specific artists and their works. The ultimate aim is to provide students a broad introduction to the lively artistic communities in China and (East) Asia and to critically consider how these communities “represent” and explore what it means to be a contemporary “Asian” artist in a globalized world.


On successful completion of this course unit, students will have knowledge and understanding of:

  • The roles contemporary (East) Asian art plays in their respective national and transnational locales
  • The creative means by which contemporary (East) Asian artists rethink tradition and reutilize traditional techniques and aesthetics
  • The socio-political engagement contemporary (East) Asian artists carry out in relation to local, national, and transnational issues
  • The relationship between urbanization and the contemporary (East) Asian art scenes

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Understand the main parameters of contemporary (East) Asian art and its relationship to national and transnational communities
  • Identify and use, with a high degree of confidence, key concepts in art history
  • Critically engage with a variety of primary and secondary literature in the field of contemporary art



Week 1: Introductory lecture

•         This will be an introductory lecture/discussion aimed at getting our heads around the past(s) of Chinese and (East) Asian art and its present(s) and future(s). We will also discuss course objectives and expectations. Should any students have prior knowledge/interest in Chinese and/or (East) Asian art, from classical periods to the present, time will be given to discuss these interests and how they will relate to this course unit.

•         Course expectations


Week 2: Orientalism

•         This week we consider the role o/Orientalism has played—and continues to play—in the appreciation of Chinese and (East) Asian art. We will explore (1) the orientalist gaze; (2) self-orientalization; and (3) the question of audience. We will then turn our attention to the means by which Chinese and (East) Asian artists, critics, scholars, and curators have attempted to engage with and challenge the continuing legacy/ies of o/Orientalism. Here we will consider "trailblazing artists" Paik Nam-june, Kusama Yayoi, Ono Yoko, Kawara On, and the theme of multimodernisms.


Week 3: Rethinking Tradition I

•         This week we will begin work on our first theme: "rethinking traditions." We will consider what cultures (may) mean by the word "tradition," think about how traditions are often "invented" and "re-invented" repeatedly, and how they (continue to) influence our contemporary lives. We will then consider how certain artistic traditions in China and (East) Asia have remained fruitful fields of inspiration for contemporary artists (e.g.: Xu Bing and Yoo Seung-ho).


Week 4: Rethinking Tradition II

•         This week we will finish up our discussion on how contemporary Asian artists have been rethinking tradition. We will consider how traditions have been used to tell future stories, and how they are intertwined with questions of identity in an increasingly postnational, glocalized world. Examples of "traditional" screens will be looked at, as well as examples taken from the areas of decorative arts, performance, and video.


Week 5: Politics, Society, and the State I

•         This week we begin discussion on our second theme: politics, society, and the state. Over the course of this week and next, we will consider the issue of art and its (a priori?) connection to politics (i.e.: art as an always-already form of protest). First, we will reflect upon the means by which certain artists engage the public in their artistic-political concerns and how they often aim to raise the social consciousness of their respective viewers. Here we will examine the works of the overseas Chinese-Indonesian artist (now resident in Australia) Dadang Christanto, as well as his contemporaries Rirkrit Tiravanija, Truong Tan, William Yang, and Manit Sriwanichpoom.


Week 7: Politics, Society, and the State II

•         This week will conclude our discussion of politics, society, and the state. Keeping in mind the issue of how art is "always-already" connected to socio-political concerns, we will first examine how contemporary Chinese and (East) Asian artists tackle the politicized histories of their respective countries and regions before shifting our attention to the issue of gender and the representation of women in contemporary Asian art.


Week 8: Asian Pop I

•         This week we shift our attention to Pop Art and examine the is

Teaching and learning methods

This course will employ mixed lecture-seminars, directed readings, Blackboard and gallery/museum visits

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • To better understand the complex habitus many contemporary (East) Asian artists find themselves in and to appreciate how they socially manoeuvre within and against these confines
  • To demonstrate an ability to critically engage with the themes discussed in the module
  • To be more aware of the interconnectedness of art and culture and the position(s) they hold in contemporary societies

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Think critically and engage in well-informed discussions
  • Critically engage with a variety of secondary literature from across different disciplines
  • Construct coherent, persuasive, and well-supported arguments in writing
  • Process and understand complicated concepts in the field of (East) Asian contemporary art

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Prepare audio-visual presentations (e.g.: PPT, Prezi, Mac)
  • Manage time and work to deadlines
  • Apply critical reading skills
  • Assess the relevance and importance of the ideas of others
  • Present information, ideas and arguments, orally and in writing, with due regard to the target audience
  • Demonstrate skills of analysis

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Prepare audio-visual presentations (e.g.: PPT, Prezi, Mac)
  • Express themselves with confidence
  • Manage time and work to deadlines
  • Apply critical reading skills
  • Assess the relevance and importance of the ideas of others
  • Present information, ideas and arguments, orally and in writing, with due regard to the target audience
  • Demonstrate skills of analysis

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit

1.    One (1) presentation; the presentation will be comprised of: (i) a biographical sketch of a chosen artist and brief synopsis of major works; (ii) critical analysis of how chosen artist relates to the specific theme under discussion (e.g.: how does the Chinese artist Xu Bing rethink tradition)


2.    Midterm Essay

3.    Final Examination

1.    Must use visual aids, e.g.: pptx, Prezi, etc.





2.    2800 words

3.    1.5—2 hours

1.    15%






2.    40%

3.    45%


Feedback methods

  • Oral feedback on group presentation
  • Written feedback on essays 1 and 2
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

  • Chiu, Melissa and Benjamin Genocchio. Contemporary Asian Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010.

  • Chiu, Melissa and Benjamin Genocchio. Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011.

  • Turner, Caroline, ed. Art and Social Change: Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific. Sydney: Pandanus Books, 2005.

  • Mukherji, Parul Dave, Naman P. Ahuja, and Kavita Singh (eds.). InFlux: Contemporary Art in Asia. London: Sage Publications, 2014.

  • Antoinette, Michelle and Caroline Turner (eds.). Contemporary Asian Art and Exhibitions: Connectivities and World-making. Canberra: ANU Press, 2014.

  • Additional articles from academic journals will be available through Blackboard and the library portal

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Christopher Payne Unit coordinator

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