Art as Power

Full panel title

Art as Power: On changes within the performing arts in relation to political power in Southeast Asia


Stéphanie Khoury (Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre)

Date and time

12 August, 16:00 – 17:30


Room 16


  • Indonesian Performances as Sites of Memory and Trauma
    Tamara Aberle (University of London)
  • Musical Exoticism and the Politics of Representation in the Tagalog Zarzuelas of Severino Reyes and José Estella
    Isidora Miranda (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Theatrical Representations of Genocide and Its Legacies
    Toni Shapiro-Phim (Philadelphia Folklore Project)

Panel abstract

Formal and informal power-brokers in the Southeast Asian region have historically relied on performing arts as one of the tools to symbolically assert their authority. Court dramas, elite poetry circles, religious musics, and other artistic forms have been mechanisms of legitimatization used by the people or institutions who were mastering these arts, either by their personal practices or by a form of authority over the artists performing them. In environments of power, such performing arts commonly have a place in the definition of geographical and social spaces. Throughout the 20th century, as power recognition shifted from being religiously based to more of a market-based economy with rational- bureaucratic/nationalistic structures, the whole definition of leadership has changed. So have the systems of performing arts supporting these political or religious authoritative structures. Through processes of secularization and the emergence of concepts of intangible patrimony, local cultural politics and individual masters have reaffirmed control over arts, apprenticeships and training centers. As artistic changes have taken place to maintain the relevance of art forms amidst a context of changing forms of power, the artists have experienced collateral effects. On the one hand, there has been an artistic liberation as norms and codes could be used out of context and experimented with, leading to their integration into the emerging contemporary art scene. On the other hand, traditional (or traditionalized) forms are increasingly trapped within constraints fixing them as markers of cultural identity.

This panel will reflect on the use of performing arts in the affirmation or strengthening of a form of political power for past or current leaders or as means to contest local forms of established authority. Such consideration leads us to discuss the contemporary performance of such arts and how the transformation of authority has impacted their artistic expression.