This Week in Southeast Asian Studies (TWISEA)
July 17, 2015
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Micaela Campbell and her daughter Hilah
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Study Abroad

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This week, we will hear from Micaela Campbell. She's currently a PhD candidate in History, and her area of focus is Indonesia. Micaela spent the last two years conducting research in both Indonesia and the Netherlands. She just returned from the Netherlands in April, and has graciously allowed us to interview her via e-mail.

How did you get interested in studying Indonesia? Was there a particular moment that you’d like to share?
I would say that seeing the Awas! Recent Art from Indonesia exhibit at the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Jogjakarta was the moment I realized I wanted to study the arts in Indonesia. It was 1999, about a year or so after the fall of Suharto, and the momentum of the pro-democracy movement and reformasi was still very palpable.

I was really just blown away by what was going on in Jogja at the time - by the social and political engagement of artists and of arts communities and by the number of independent cultural spaces opening around the city. 

I was doing my undergraduate degree in art history at that point and had just become interested in ideas about collectivity and socially engaged art, so to see all these different things happening in one place was really inspiring to me.

After I finished my degree, I spent a couple of years living there, and as my language skills improved, I started reading Indonesian literature, especially works written by women. That would eventually become the topic of my MA thesis but I was always a bit disappointed that I had moved away from my original interest in arts communities so when it came to my PhD, I tried to find a way to incorporate both of them.
What is your research topic? How did you come to pick this topic? And has your topic changed much at all since you began the PhD program?

My research topic focuses on the cultural public sphere. Initially, I was interested in looking at the ways in which cultural communities were acting in opposition to the state during the late New Order by producing alternative imaginings of the nation both through the politics of their communal discourse and the less coherent subjectivities that emerged in their individual work.

My project hasn’t changed considerably except that it now includes two earlier time periods when the arts were experiencing similar conditions of openness and indeterminacy to those of the 1990s. And it has also expanded in scope to an examination of how the state has historically attempted to control the reading of national literature and how broader debates surrounding issues of morality and challenges to the dominant Indonesian historiography have on the one hand been contributing factors in the disappearance of literary studies from the national curriculum while on the other hand they have led to a proliferation of cultural communities with broad and heterogeneous agendas for the promotion of literature and literary appreciation.

Could you tell us about your research abroad? Where did you conduct research? How did you manage all of the traveling?

For the last two years, we’ve been back and forth to Indonesia and spent some time in the Netherlands as well. The first year we lived in Jogjakarta where I was studying advanced Indonesian as a Blakemore Freeman Fellow in the Center for Asian Languages at the Universitas Sanata Dharma.

This past year, I was on a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship conducting research in both Indonesia and the Netherlands. I was mainly working in libraries, archives, and arts centers around Jakarta and at the Leiden University Library and the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

When we started out, Hilah was still 2 years old, and Lee [Micaela's partner] and I were pretty nervous about how we were going to manage it all with a toddler and how she was going to adjust to all these new environments - even the initial 19-hour plane ride seemed daunting to us at the time. But she’s ended up being a great traveler and she did really well with all the transitions. She was probably even better at it than us in a lot of ways.

Could you share with us a funny story about your research?

I was in the process of conducting interviews with members of an art collective that had been active since the 1950s. At the moment they were without a space of their own, so all of their artwork was being stored offsite. I was interested in taking photographs so we made arrangements to meet the following week at the gudang where they were storing their works.

Gudang is a term generally used to refer to a shed or storage space so I envisioned I would be spending the afternoon in some dark, dusty, humid room and I dressed accordingly.

When I arrived at the location, it turned out to be home of one of Indonesia’s most well known contemporary artists. It was an entire compound of beautifully crafted outbuildings filled with one of the best collections of Indonesian art I have ever seen.

Apparently referring to it as the gudang is a bit of an inside joke. Here I had arrived in my grubby jeans and t-shirt expecting to sift through a dusty archive and I am being introduced the founding members of the arts collective, both of whom are dressed in their best batik, in the front hall of the house of one of Indonesia’s most well known artists. I was a little mortified that I had read the situation so incorrectly but it turned out to be a great afternoon.

We would love to hear what you are doing this summer. Please e-mail us an update at
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Recommended Resources (2)
This section lists news items and other recently-published resources that have been recommended by faculty and grad students over the past week. To submit an item for next week, email

New this week:

Items from last week:

  • On TV: July 28, America ReFramed, CAMBODIAN SON “How do you survive when you belong nowhere?” Poet Kosal Khiev was lucky to escape war-torn Cambodia before he was two but deported to the country he’s never known after 14 years in jail. Follow a year in the life of the poet while he navigates his new fame as Phnom Penh’s premiere poet and receives the most important invitation of his career.


  • DVD Release: To Singapore, with Love - A Film by Tan Pin Pin. Director Tan Pin Pin traveled to Thailand, Malaysia and United Kingdom to interview Singapore political exiles about their feelings about Singapore. Some have not been home for 50 years. The film though banned in Singapore for undermining national security, has moved audiences the world over.

  • New Article: “Democracy Thwarted: Political Crisis in Thailand” by Charles "Biff" Keyes in Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) 2015 #11



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Jobs (3)

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Fellowships and Funding (2)

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For general information on funding sources, including FLAS, visit the SEAC website
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Conferences and Calls for Papers (4)

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Study Abroad
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