In celebration of the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts is presenting an educational exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Little Theater Lobby, from November 9 to 19.
Entitled “Asean at 50: Power as Flow,” the exhibition brings to fore the centrality of water systems in the region as source and determination of unique ideas of power.
The exhibition represents Asean, not only as the 50-year-old community, but as a naturally interconnected region by great rivers and internal seas. In the sense that the Asean member nations were germinated by this maritime deep past, the present political consolidation can be recognized as inevitable and even pre-ordained.
Founded in 1967 by half of its current member nations—Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines— Asean shaped its own definitions of power. These definitions may be seen as owed in large measure to the literal fluidity of its geography; and concepts of order, expansion, leadership, and community based on continuous flows of goods, ideas and people.
The exhibition traces the emergence of archaic, embryonic polities of mainland and island Southeast Asia along the rivers and internal seas of the region, and moves into the Asean years, and into the future. Throughout this arc of time, water is the connecting substance.
The exhibition employs artifacts, images and text, to tell this story: that for thousands of years, Southeast Asian peoples have harnessed power from rivers and seas to excel in trade, art and culture, accumulating values and characteristics distinctly Southeast Asian.
The great rivers of Mekong and Ayerrawaddy, its basins and tributaries, have nurtured Funanese and Pyu cultures in Mainland Southeast Asia, preceding the Khmer and Sri Vijaya polities among others; while the seas in the Philippine, Indonesian and Malaysian archipelagos carried Austronesian-speakers who, since their spread began four thousand years ago, can be found in almost all corners of the world.
The exhibition also chronicles the 50 years of the association. From its early years as a five-country association during the Cold War, through the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis as a 10-country, the association competently navigated the region into the new millennium and beyond.
Finally, the exhibition offers a glimpse into the vast plans of Asean for the sustainability of its water resources. From management through reservoirs and other hydrological infrastructures to the protection of marine species and ecosystems, Asean is planning for a future whose challenges are already emerging.