Malaysian art historian to give lecture

From Abstract Expressionism to Conceptual Art: Malaysian Artists in the 1960s and 1970s

Dr. Sarena Abdullah is giving an art history lecture on February 7, 2019 (Thursday) from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in Hodgdon IRC 9 in the context of Dr. Pearlie Rose Baluyut’s ARTH 219 (Contemporary Art Since 1945) at SUNY Oneonta. The lecture examines the changes in London’s art education and how it affected the thoughts and practice of several Malaysian artists who attained their art education there at that time. The changing structure of art education and exposure to Western art, including American art, influenced these Malaysian artists who produced the early forms of abstract and abstract expressionist works that were seen in GRUP exhibition and the Abstract Expressionists exhibition in Malaysia in the late 1960s.

As a reaction to these exhibitions, this lecture also discusses the New Scene artists (hard-edge) and the Mystical Reality (Conceptual Art). With the postwar and the context of the newly independent Malaya in 1957 and subsequent formation of Malaysia in 1963, this lecture situates these early artistic approaches within a shifting culture ideal—from a Malayan identity to an early search and quest for a Malaysian identity.


Sarena Abdullah received her M.A. in Art History from SUNY Buffalo and Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Sydney in Australia. Currently, Dr. Abdullah is a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Arts; Deputy Dean of Research, Postgraduates, and Linkages in the School of the Arts; and Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CENPRIS) at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia. Specializing in contemporary Malaysian and Southeast Asian art, she was one of the Field Leaders for “Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art,” a research project led by the Power Institute Foundation for Art and Culture at the University of Sydney and funded by the Getty Foundation in 2015. A recipient of the College Art Association (CAA)-Getty Travel Grant 2016-2017, Dr. Abdullah was recently awarded the London Asia Research Award by the Paul-Mellon Centre in London and Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong. She has published her research extensively in various journals and as book chapters, as well as authored the book Malaysian Art Since the 1990s: Postmodern Situation (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2018). Dr. Abdullah has collaborated with Dr. Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut of SUNY Oneonta through their COIL courses VHS 202 (Malaysian Modern Art) and ARTH 294 (Selected Topics – Asian Art), respectively, in Fall 2017.