Siobhan's research investigates collections of classical Balinese paintings to analyse the processes of art collecting and the relationships between museum collections and present-day art practices. Her initial study was based on the Forge Collection of Balinese Art at the Australian Museum in Sydney, assembled in the village of Kamasan, East Bali, during the 1970s. Kamasan paintings are produced for display in temples. The stories depicted on them come from epics of Indian and indigenous origin, relating the lives of the deities, the royal courts and sometimes even commoner families. These narratives serve a didactic and devotional function and the stories depicted on them acquire many layers of meaning in the context of their display. They are intended to gratify and entertain the gods during their visits to the temple, as well as the human participants in ritual activities.
Drawing on anthropology, art history, museology and area studies perspectives Siobhan combined archival research of visual and written collection documentation with field work to document the production and exchange of paintings and Balinese responses to the collecting project. Contemporary museums seek to emphasise intercultural exchange and reactivate relationships between their collections and indigenous communities, however they often lack specific guidelines about how to proceed beyond these motivating principles. Siobhan's study advocates a model for an ongoing relationship between museums and communities based on visual documentation methodologies. She is interested in examining the concept of heritage; in particular Balinese articulations of tradition and the perceived danger of commodification. Balinese paintings circulate between religious and commercial forms without apparent contradiction and the circulation of paintings within different markets does not affect how artists define the parameters of traditional practice. Kamasan art continues to be regarded as ‘traditional’ despite innovations in materials, techniques of production and the narratives depicted.
As a fellow at IIAS, Siobhan will continue to investigate the scope of Balinese collections overseas. Many collected objects in the Netherlands were acquired in the early twentieth century; these collections are testimony to the movement of Kamasan paintings beyond the village and their circulation alludes to the documented history of interaction between Kamasan artists and collectors. In addition to linking paintings held in Balinese and other overseas collections, Siobhan will gather details on the attribution of different artists, time periods and regions to facilitate ongoing collaboration between collected objects in museums and Balinese communities.