AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 59

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Session 59: Public Spaces in Colonial Asia

Transculturation: India Creates Contemporary Public Sculpture to Honour Its Heroes Mimicking the Former Role of British Colonial Sculpture
Mary A. Steggles, University of Manitoba, Canada

During the time that Britain ruled India, more than 170 public monuments were erected. The British knew precisely the role that public commemorative statues can play in promoting ideology and domination. In contrast, Indians had no practical experience as sculptors, with the secular public statue prior to the arrival of the British. Out of the social spaces in which Indians interacted on a daily basis with these public statues, wrought with all their emblems of asymmetrical power and dominion, transculturation takes place. Fernando Ortiz coined the term transculturation to describe the process by which a conquered people begin to choose and select aspects of the dominant culture that they would appropriate, modify, or disregard. From this emerged an Indian government keen on reproducing the British practices by commissioning memorials to India’s heroes. Mimicry, as defined by Bhabha, is a form of transculturation, a process of appropriating and modifying, in this instance, to construct a new post-independence identity. My paper explores the cross-cultural contexts where the Indian sculptors have over time assimilated, re-absorbed, and appropriated Western classicial-idealism in their figures reproducing this formerly unknown visual language and use of sculptural sculptural practice to erase icons of colonial rule and to empower their newly formed identity.

Sacred Site or Public Space? The Shwedagon Pagoda in Colonial Rangoon, Burma
Donald M. Seekins, University of Maryland, USA

Before World War II, Rangoon was one of Asia's truly globalized cities. Just south of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the British in the mid-19th century built a modern new city on the ruins of King Alaungpaya's city of "Yangoun." Commercial opportunities brought European and Asian civil servants, soldiers, merchants and workers from many parts of the British empire and beyond, so that by the 1880s a majority of the city's residents were foreign born, and by 1931, only 35 percent of the population was indigenous Burmese. Few people, even the Burmese, called Rangoon home or put down deep roots. This paper will describe the colonial city in terms of globalization and its contradictions and describe how the colonial order began to fall apart even before victorious Japanese troops entered the city in 1942 and brought the city's era of globalization to an abrupt end.

The Gateway Connecting the Glorious Past and Future: Reconstruction of Gwanghwamun, Symbolic Decolonization, and National Identity Building in South Korea
Sana Ho, , South Korea

This paper examines how Koreans represent their national identity by reconstructing historical site Gwanghwamun and plaza in the center of the capital city Seoul. As a landmark and symbol of Seoul's long history, Gwanghwamun area continues to be the center of Korean politics surrounded by the most important political and diplomatic institutions. Thus, the construction project has significant meanings in public sphere and propaganda making. The reconstruction of Gwanghwamun is an effort to decolonization symbolically from Japanese annexation. After multiple periods of destruction and disrepair, the last deconstruction was in 1926, when the Japanese government had it deconstructed and moved to make way for the Japanese General Governnment Building, and then the wooden structure was destroyed in the Korean War. It was reconstructed in 1963 during Park Chung-hee's administration. Recent restoration work on the gate began in 2006 and will be finished in August 2010, ahead of the 100th anniversary of Japanese annexation. This project not only tries to decolonize Japanese dominance but also to achieve symbolic decolonization from China by reconstructing historical icon King Sejong (1418 – 1450) the Great, who is considered the greatest king in history and icon for leadership and intelligence. The propaganda of the great “invention” of Korean alphabet (Hangeul) by King Sejong standouts the independence of Korean culture from China and thus symbolizes the decolonization from the dominance of Chinese culture. By performing ancient parade ceremony daily in this area, Koreans reinforce their national identity through reconstruction the space, history, and collective memories.

Cultivating Others’ Garden: Architectural Administration of Chinese Theaters in the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1900s-1930s
Bingbing Wei, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The majority of Chinese theaters in modern Shanghai were located in the International Settlement. As local theaters went through architectural Westernization in the early twentieth century, the colonial authorities of the Settlement intended to enforce its administration regarding their architecture, especially in terms of fire precaution. Their early overall attempt in the early 1920s achieved little success, due to both resistance of the proprietors and their own consideration of financial interests. However, the rise of nationalistic and anti-imperialistic sentiments in the late 1920s urged the colonizers to take a firmer stand in the matter, which, to a great extent, promoted the architectural improvement of local theaters.