Envisioning Southeast Asia

LESSON 5: Contemporary Art of South-East Asia


Let’s examine the concept of art in the recent history of the region, and the role it has played in  promoting new political, social and environmental ideas.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic Contemporary Art of South-East Asia
Key idea Regional identity in Southeast Asia can and has been created out of diversities and commonalities by regional organizations and through regional events as well as  everyday activities such as popular sports, art, and culture. This identity is continuously evolving and contributes toward the envisioning of Southeast Asia as a region for the future.
Through contemporary art, artists expressed themselves on topics that were meaningful to them, not only focusing on aesthetic style but more importantly on political, social, and environmental issues. Throughout Southeast Asia, contemporary art has played an important role in advancing new ideas when newly independent countries were in the process of defining their identities
Key concepts Art and politics
Contemporary art
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons 1–2 periods (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed A/V equipment and Internet access to play the video clips (or hard copy with similar content)
Sources and handouts for distribution
Prerequisite knowledge No prerequisite knowledge required

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. Understand contemporary art and its different practices.
  2. Identify names, works and shared themes of selected contemporary artists from Southeast Asia.
  3. Demonstrate awareness of national, regional and global political issues which may be relevant to understanding the art.
  1. Conduct basic analysis of contemporary art.
  2. Conceptualize a work of art based on the theme of sustainable environment for the region of Southeast Asia.
  3. Engage in discussion and debate about contemporary art
  1. Better appreciate art in general and its universal language.
  2. Realize the importance and relevance of contemporary art in the political and cultural context of Southeast Asia.
  3. Have a greater interest in creating and /or studying art / art history.


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and  activities suggested below.

Note: the lesson can be contextualized with local artworks; local artists can be invited to work with students on the exhibition project.

1. Teacher talk

The teacher introduces the concept of contemporary art.

2. Hook activity: Students meet the artists

Students watch a video on the Vietnamese artist Bui Cong Khan’s work and engage in a discussion. The teacher introduces old cave paintings in Sulawesi, the beginning of art and the concept of contemporary art. Students in groups find similarities between the artwork of Bui Cong Khan which was introduced in the film and the Sulawesi cave painting.

3. Group discussion

Students watch the documentary “Redefining Art in South-East Asia: The 1970’s and After” and reflect on contemporary art through thematic discussion.
Watch the video
(see the lesson plan for password and conditions of use)

4. Teacher talk

The teacher focuses on the similarities in the works of art that were covered in the documentary and emphasize shared themes in contemporary art, showing students how these shared themes reflect regional commonalities.

5. Curating an exhibition

Students select a theme for an art exhibition. The exhibition should feature at least 3 artworks from 3 different artists that appear in the documentary.

6. Suggested home extension activity

  • Students set up an exhibition on the theme “Shared histories: Shared environment”
  • Students create an installation with objects from their daily life.
  • Students create an imaginary artwork.

7. Suggested follow-up activities

  • Field trips can be organized to visit a gallery or a museum which hold contemporary art collection.
  • An artist, locally known with her/his contemporary artworks, can be invited to the classroom as a guest of honour for the exhibition opening.