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Decolonizing Southeast Asian Sound Archives, DeCoSEAS (2021~2024)

DeCoSEAS is a transnational research project focused on hearing and listening as dialogical modes of knowledge formation in order to renegotiate established understandings of heritage curation.

Decolonizing Southeast Asian Sound Archives (DeCoSEAS) is a three-year research and community engagement project funded by the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) on Cultural Heritage and Global Change supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

DeCoSEAS proposes the decolonization of heritage curation with three formative orientation points: the improvement of access to heritage, the transfer of agency to stakeholders of their heritage, and the diversification of the dialogue about this heritage’s curation. For this aim, researchers based in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France work together with academics, curators and NGOs in Southeast Asia in opening up three unique sound collections, all located in Europe and barely accessible to researchers and cultural originators.

DeCoSEAS develops four initiatives in a variety of academic, curatorial and public spaces for disclosing the collections: Digitization of material, Visiting Fellowships providing access to the material on site, Publications and Outreach Projects.

DeCoSEAS strives for the inclusion of voices, stances and interpretations that have hitherto remained unheard in existing discourses about heritage by attending to multiple, time-bound and intricately entangled voices simultaneously (those recorded from the past and those from Southeast Asian partners today). With these action plans, DeCoSEAS aims to provide new insights in and new practices of heritage curation and participation.

Jaap Kunst guiding people over the Tropical Melodies exhibition in the 'Tropenmuseum. (1st March, 1951)



1. Digitization: DeCoSEAS aims to produce four digital, open access collections of music and sound from Southeast Asia that are now located in repositories in Europe.

  • Jaap Kunst Sound Collection : One of the world’s foundational ethnomusicological sound collections recorded in the 1920s and 1930s on the many islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Now located at the University of Amsterdam.

  • BBC Empire Service in SE Asia : Recorded broadcasts of formative political events and the every-day lives of people in the British imperial sphere during late colonial and early postcolonial eras (1930s-1950s). Now located at the BBC Archive Trust and the British Library.

  • Songs of the Thrice-Blooded Land : A unique multimedia study of the ritual music of the Toraja people in Sulawesi with 40 hours of songs and poems with photographs and video recorded between 1991 and 2005 by Dana Rappoport.

  • Southeast Asia Hearing : A digital platform aggregating the newly disclosed collections with access to other digital sound archives in Southeast Asia and Europe.

2. Fellowships: DeCoSEAS annually invites Visiting Fellows from Southeast Asia for a three-month stay at one or more of the sound collections located in Europe. The Fellow can be a scholar, artist, curator, or stakeholder of the sonic repertoire that they intend to consult for research, artistic, performance, curational, ritual, or private purposes. Early career applicants are prioritized.

The Fellowship is a pilot study identifying hurdles in the physical access to the archived material for stakeholders from Southeast Asia. The Fellow’s regular briefing enables the articulation of recommendations for improved access to other (sound) archives and heritage institutions in Europe. DeCoSEAS incorporates the Fellows’ research outputs in collaborative publication formats in publications and outreach projects.

3. Publication: DeCoSEAS facilitates scholars from Southeast Asia in accessing established publication channels, thus transferring agency to them in knowledge formations about their heritage in their capacity as researchers, authors, and editors. These efforts also serve the academic dissemination of DeCoSEAS’ research findings, encompassing its research of the archival corpora and its rethinking of curatorial practices.

Access to globally normative publication channels (established journals, publishing houses, conferences) remains difficult for Southeast Asian scholars due to language constraints, a lack of opportunities to attend conferences, and incompatibility of scientific paradigms. These access hurdles have far-reaching theoretical implications for how knowledge is constituted as power.

DeCoSEAS experiments with collective and/or dialogical modes of writing, multimedia presentations on the digital platforms [link to Digitization] and the direct inclusion of non-academic expert knowledge, potentially bringing in new perspectives towards the curation, provision and employment of (sonic) cultural heritage.

4. Outreach: Dissemination of DeCoSEAS’ initiatives and findings to non-academic stakeholders is a crucial precondition for the diversification of the dialogue about cultural heritage and existing curatorial practices. spaces and locations for the curation of sonic heritage that are largely public and freely accessible: DeCoSEAS enters and employs digital environments, theatre venues, workshop rooms, and social media to disseminate and shape its research findings. It invites attendees to consider issues of ownership, privacy, and power dynamics in such collective curatorial practices, raising ethical issues about the curation of cultural heritage.

DeCoSEAS aims to dialogue with a wide array of publics and stakeholders that encompass Southeast Asian audiences, Southeast Asian diasporic communities in Europe and elsewhere, and European journalists, educators, and artists. Formats encompass, among others, awareness workshops, (online) radio broadcasts, song contests, and theatre performances in Southeast Asia and Europe.



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