On curating “Southern Xinjiang: Allure of Harmony in Diversity”

On curating “Southern Xinjiang: Allure of Harmony in Diversity”
The cover design of the 64-page book on the photographers’ journey features Etles silk, a traditional Uyghur fabric made from Atlas moth silk. It is used for official and festive attire. Weaving this silk is a famed intangible cultural heritage of Southern Xinjiang, a practice dating back some 2,000 years. Its vibrant colours and undulating form on the cover symbolise the region’s diversity in harmonious movement.

WHEN one of my best friends, Lam Yoong Koy, showed me some photos of his trip to Southern Xinjiang last October-November, I thought they were excellent documentary evidence of a region that has engendered much curiosity. I asked if there were more. And indeed there were – some 10,000 of them taken by a group of 10 elderly photography enthusiasts who went on the trip.

They had good stories too. Fortuitously, among them was an accomplished writer of the Chinese language, Yong Chai May. She wrote much of the 11 introductory essays to their 11-part show. These were later translated for this project. On top of the introductions, every photographer was tasked to write 30-50 word captions of his or her own photos so as to give a first-hand account of what they experienced.

Mock Wedding Ceremony: We witnessed a mock Uyghur wedding ceremony at the Fragrance Concubine Park. Dancers in traditional costumes performed a spirited folk dance on wool carpets laid out on the stage which was festooned with the Uyghur famous Etles silk. Photo:TanYJ

Another matter that attracted me to their project was the camaraderie and sense of purpose among them. In the epilogue to a book published in conjunction with the project, they wrote:

Although most of us are just ordinary photography enthusiasts, we believe that with the keen eyes of 10, we should be able to select some good pieces to share. We followed the adage of travel photography: “You shoot, I shoot, he shoots, and not a moment is missed!” We believe that, despite lacking formal training in creative photography, collective collaboration can compensate for whatever shortcomings we might have.
Xinjiang lamb is much sought after. This may be attributed to the quality of its pastures. There are various ways of cooking lamb meat. Chunky cubes threaded onto skewers and cooked over hot grills are called “kebabs”. These are very popular. However, “whole lamb roast” ranks number one. It is a Southern Xinjiang delicacy that attracts gourmets from all parts of China, and beyond. Photo: LeowYL

They added:

In the process of selecting and comparing photos, exhibiting and publishing them, our appreciation and understanding of the art of photography have undoubtedly improved. Moreover, as we revisited this journey and distilled our observations and experiences in Southern Xinjiang into deeper insights, it has become a journey of spiritual enrichment for each and everyone of us, thus adding a highlight to the life experience of this group of seniors!
Grotto Murals: These are replicas of the sacred murals. In many grottoes the original murals had been hollowed out from the clay walls by early foreign explorers and local thieves. Many of the looted items are now found in museums overseas. Photo:LamYK

Finally, I thought that the idea of giving a visitor-view of Muslim-majority Southern Xinjiang with its diverse and colourful history would be of interest to all Malaysians.

In short, we have, as the editors would say, a great story.

The end products of this curatorial exercise by me are (1) an exhibition (2) a 64-page book and (3) a bilingual website, prepared by Yoong Koy, that gives access to the Chinese essays and captions. Read here.

On my part, marrying photography with stories furthers the “branding” of my gallery as a place where art and story-telling meet.

This exhibition, held at my gallery, garnered the interest of people interested in mainly two matters: (1) stories on Xinjiang as a visitor destination and (2) how a group of elderly photography enthusiasts worked together to put together this project.
The 10 photographers (from left): Chia Yong Tai, Lam Yoong Koy, Hen Yean Ni, Leow Yuen Leong, Yeong Poh Choo, Nathalie Fougere ep. Chia, Tan Yeow Joo, Yep Beng Hong, Yong Chai May and Choo Bee Ha. This was taken in front of Xinjiang's largest mosque, the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. It is a city steeped in Islamic culture and there’s no other city like it in China. The mosque, built in 1442, besides its religious role, is also the focal point for community gatherings, both local and regional.
Route of the 10-day journey taken by the 10 photographers

Initial thoughts on curation

Curating an exhibition is new to me. It is a logical extension of running a gallery, which is why I am placing emphasis on it. My preliminary thoughts are that (1) there are undeniable parallels between curation and publishing and (2) I can start by adapting my publishing experience and finessing along the way.

To move faster along this path, I am seeking the help of ChatGPT which is excellent at giving summaries of thoughts and ideas pulled from various sources. The following are two pieces I obtained (click on the headings to expand each piece).

How would a “scope of work” proposal of an art curator look like?

A scope of work proposal submitted by an art curator to a client outlines the specific services and activities that the curator will undertake to manage and present an art exhibition or collection. This document serves as a detailed plan and contract, ensuring that both parties have a clear understanding of the curator's responsibilities and the overall project scope. Below is an elaboration of what such a proposal might include:

1. Introduction and Overview

  • Introduction to the Curator: Brief background on the curator’s experience, expertise, and qualifications.
  • Overview of the Project: Description of the exhibition or collection to be curated, including its theme, purpose, and desired outcomes.

2. Project Objectives

  • Specific Goals: Clearly defined objectives of the project (e.g., promoting emerging artists, showcasing a particular style or period, fostering community engagement).

3. Curatorial Services

  • Artwork Selection: Process for selecting artworks, including criteria such as artistic quality, relevance to the theme, and suitability for the exhibition space.
  • Artist Liaison: Communication and coordination with artists regarding artwork loans, installations, and related logistics.
  • Exhibition Design: Planning and design of the exhibition layout, considering space, lighting, and flow.
  • Catalog Development: Creation of exhibition catalog or brochure, detailing artworks, artist statements, and contextual essays.
  • Public Programming: Development of events such as artist talks, workshops, or guided tours to enhance audience engagement.
  • Installation and Deinstallation: Oversight of artwork installation and removal, including coordination with technicians and art handlers.

4. Project Management

  • Timeline: Proposed schedule outlining key milestones (e.g., artwork selection deadline, installation dates, opening reception).
  • Budget Management: Estimation of costs associated with artwork transport, insurance, venue rental, marketing materials, and curator's fees.
  • Logistics Planning: Coordination of transportation, insurance, and security for artworks.
  • Venue Coordination: Collaboration with venue staff on logistics, technical requirements, and compliance with safety regulations.

5. Communication and Reporting

  • Regular Updates: Frequency and method of communication (e.g., weekly meetings, progress reports).
  • Client Involvement: Opportunities for client input and feedback throughout the project.
  • Documentation: Maintaining records of all communications, agreements, and decisions.

6. Marketing and Promotion

  • Promotional Strategy: Outline of marketing efforts to attract visitors (e.g., press releases, social media campaigns, collaborations with local partners).
  • Press and Media Relations: Coordination of interviews, media coverage, and promotional material.

7. Evaluation and Follow-Up

  • Post-Exhibition Evaluation: Gathering feedback from visitors, artists, and stakeholders for future improvement.
  • Wrap-Up: Final documentation, including financial summaries, attendance reports, and lessons learned.

8. Terms and Conditions

  • Contractual Agreements: Terms of engagement, including payment schedule, cancellation policy, and dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Intellectual Property: Rights and usage permissions related to artworks and exhibition materials.

9. Appendices

  • Artist Profiles: Detailed information about participating artists.
  • Venue Specifications: Technical details of the exhibition space.
  • Budget Breakdown: Itemized list of anticipated expenses.


The scope of work proposal concludes with a summary of the curator's commitment to delivering a successful exhibition or collection, aligned with the client's vision and objectives. It serves as a comprehensive roadmap for the project, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the curator-client relationship.

Elaborate on “curatorial services”

Curatorial services encompass a range of specialized tasks and responsibilities undertaken by an art curator to conceptualize, organize, and present an exhibition or collection. These services are crucial for ensuring the success and coherence of the artistic project. Below is an elaboration on the key curatorial services that might be included in a scope of work proposal:

1. Artwork Selection

  • Research and Selection Process: Conducting thorough research to identify artworks that align with the exhibition's theme, concept, or historical context.
  • Curatorial Vision: Developing a cohesive narrative or aesthetic approach that guides the selection of artworks.
  • Artist Outreach: Contacting and negotiating with artists or galleries to secure loan agreements for specific artworks.
  • Collection Curation: For permanent collections, managing acquisitions, deaccessions, and display rotations to enhance the collection's quality and relevance.

2. Exhibition Design and Layout

  • Space Assessment: Assessing the exhibition venue to determine the optimal layout and flow of artworks.
  • Design Concept: Developing a visual concept for the exhibition space, considering factors such as lighting, spatial arrangement, and audience experience.
  • Installation Planning: Collaborating with designers, technicians, and art handlers to plan and execute the physical installation of artworks.
  • Labeling and Interpretation: Developing informative labels and interpretative materials to accompany artworks and enhance visitor understanding.

3. Artist Liaison and Coordination

  • Communication with Artists: Serving as a primary point of contact for participating artists, providing guidance on artwork presentation and logistics.
  • Loan Agreements: Negotiating loan agreements and handling logistics related to artwork transport, insurance, and condition reporting.
  • Installation Oversight: Supervising the installation process to ensure artworks are displayed according to the curator's vision and professional standards.

4. Catalog Development

  • Catalog Planning: Planning and organizing content for exhibition catalogs or brochures, including artist biographies, essays, and high-quality images of artworks.
  • Publication Coordination: Working with designers, writers, and printers to produce printed or digital exhibition catalogs.
  • Marketing Materials: Creating promotional materials using catalog content to generate interest and attract visitors.

5. Public Programming

  • Event Planning: Developing a program of events such as artist talks, panel discussions, workshops, and guided tours to engage diverse audiences.
  • Education Initiatives: Collaborating with educators to develop educational resources and activities related to the exhibition's themes and artworks.
  • Community Outreach: Reaching out to community organizations, schools, and local businesses to promote participation and inclusivity.

6. Budget Management

  • Budget Development: Creating a detailed budget that outlines projected expenses for all aspects of the exhibition, including artist fees, production costs, marketing, and venue rentals.
  • Expense Tracking: Monitoring expenditures throughout the project lifecycle to ensure financial goals are met and resources are managed efficiently.
  • Funding and Sponsorship: Seeking funding opportunities, grants, or sponsorships to support exhibition costs and outreach activities.

7. Exhibition Evaluation

  • Visitor Feedback: Collecting and analyzing visitor feedback through surveys, observations, and interactions to assess the exhibition's impact and effectiveness.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Seeking feedback from artists, lenders, and stakeholders to evaluate the curator's performance and identify areas for improvement.
  • Documentation: Compiling a comprehensive report documenting key outcomes, lessons learned, and recommendations for future projects.

8. Project Management

  • Timeline Development: Establishing a project timeline with clear milestones, deadlines, and deliverables.
  • Team Coordination: Managing a team of assistants, interns, and contractors to ensure tasks are completed on schedule and within budget.
  • Logistical Planning: Coordinating logistics such as transportation, security, and installation schedules to ensure smooth project execution.


Curatorial services play a critical role in transforming artistic visions into compelling and meaningful exhibitions or collections. By combining scholarly research, creative vision, and project management skills, art curators enrich cultural experiences and foster deeper engagement with art for diverse audiences. The scope of work proposal outlines these services in detail to provide transparency and clarity about the curator's responsibilities and deliverables to the client.

This does not mean that I would follow all of them; it is useful, however, to have a “draft” and “skeleton” to flesh out and creatively adapt.

Lim Siang Jin

Lim Siang Jin