Virtual Panel II: Current Trends in Research on Timor-Leste

This panel considers current trends in Timor-Leste studies in a range of academic disciplines by both East Timorese and non-East Timorese scholars, and also by practitioners, officers of national and international organizations, and others. In particular the panel aims to explore opportunities for collaboration between researchers and across disciplines at the national, regional and international level with a view to increasing the profile of Timor-Leste studies at the Association for Asian Studies Conference.

On the 1st June (Timor-Leste time) we will start making the papers and/or presentations available to panelists. Each day we will post 1 paper and give 24 hours for comments and feedback on that paper. Those panelists who are happy to share their papers or presentations online for the wider public will do so after June 12th.

To view schedule of papers click here.

If you have any questions or queries please email:

Maria Madeira, Artist

CONTEMPORARY ARTS OF TIMOR-LESTE:  The Contribution and Artistic Practice of Female Visual Artists

The emergence of an East Timorese female contemporary art practice was born out of unbearable circumstances, such as a sense of powerlessness and the feelings of loss and the need to express oneself, conditions in which communication was/is vital for survival, conditions that were/are necessary to create contemporary voices and images that portray the difficulties and struggles faced by minority groups. This grew and developed into the urgency to preserve and safeguard Timor-Leste’s social, political, religious and cultural traditional values (Barrkman 2008; Crockford 2007). Under such circumstances, becoming a voice for the voicelesswas inevitable, and it became a concern for most female visual artists like Gabriela Carrascalão Cid, Mrs. (Dona) Verónica Pereira Maia, Albertina Viegas as well as my own practice. As a female East Timorese contemporary visual artist, I could not ignore the contribution of these practicing female artists in Timor-Leste today. I consider these female practitioners as the forerunners in bridging the gap between generations and the diverse cross-cultural dialogues between Timor-Leste and the rest of the world. It is therefore extremely important to speak out and create an awareness concerning the impact, contribution and influence of East Timorese female visual artists and draw attention to the significant role they play in the development of Timor-Leste’s contemporary arts practice.It will hopefully help bring an end to this ‘culture of silence’, and start to acknowledge the valuable role women have played over the centuries, particularly in recent times. By ‘culture of silence’, I mean that female contemporary visual artistic practice is hardly spoken or written about, and that contemporary female artists are often overlooked in regards to art exhibitions and events.

mica Barreto Soares, PhD Candidate, Swinburne Institute of Technology

China’s Covid-19 diplomacy in Timor-Leste

This paper examines China’s Covid-19 diplomacy in Timor-Leste through the lens of soft power. In just a short period, the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the world and threatened both economic and human security particularly. While most countries look inward, China, on the other hand, has gone beyond its borders, stepping up to assist not only the hard-hit countries but also the less-affected nations including Timor-Leste, to tackle the infectious disease through different engagements. These include providing medical aid and Covid-19 related public relations to raise awareness. China’s Covid-19 related activities in Timor-Leste are considerably significant and well-received. It argues that China’s assistance is undoubtedly a gesture of goodwill in time of unprecedented crisis. Yet, its engagement also contains soft power elements which aim to promote its self-image as a benevolent frontliner and responsible great power that is capable of filling the void in time of great need. Such diplomacy will also further strengthen its presence in Timor-Leste.

Dr. Chen, Li-Li, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Science, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e

Everyday Militarism and Civil Resistance: A Feminist Analysis of the Kuluhun Case in Timor-Leste

Liberal state militarism is deeply embedded in the state and the society in the form of state-building. Militarism upholding the military values tends to encroach the social realm and limit the political space of citizens. However, militarism is impossible without mobilizing social practices, which provides the theoretical basis for civil resistance (Swati, 2018). In this article, I use a feminist narrative approach suggested by Annick Wibben (2011) as well as walking and seeing to examine the security discourses of Kuluhun in Timor-Leste, where two off-duty police officers from PNTL killed three male teenagers and five others were hurt last November, to elaborate how local communities reappropriate and democratize the meanings of security through everyday narratives and graffiti. I argue that although militarism might dominate political institutions and social practices, citizens have agentic role in negotiating, producing, and appropriating the meanings and the spaces where security is contested. This article suggests that in spite of competing discourses, the power of civil resistance could be restrained, since militarism ideology dominates political and social relations where citizens are situated.

Dr Susanna Barnes, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Saskatchewan

Spoken words, written documents and grounded practices: understanding land claims from an ‘analytic of assemblage’

Development actors in Timor-Leste, led by the World bank, have promoted the idea that legalization and titling of land rights are essential to obtaining land tenure security, stimulating investment, particularly in the agricultural sector, and improving local land markets. Central to this goal is an understanding of property that centres on the notion of ‘ownership’ understood as the rights exercised by (usually) a single, “identifiable owner, identified by formal title, exercising absolute control, distinguished from others by boundaries that protect the owner from non-owners by granting the owner the right to exclude” (Singer 1996, see also World Bank 2018, USAID 2013). Yet, qualitative and quantitative studies have shown that local understandings of land ownership do not necessarily correspond to this model (Yoder, 2011, Fitzpatrick et al. 2016, Asia Foundation 2016). Despite these contrasting conceptual frameworks, land formalisation has been a priority for successive governments of Timor-Leste. In this paper,  I draw on Li’s (2007, 2014) work on ‘practices of assemblage’ to explore the nature and effects of land formalization processes on local understandings of land ownership in Timor-Leste. I focus, in particular, on how these ‘assemblages’ are constituted in specific ‘inscription devices’ (Li 2014, 589) – spoken words, written documents and grounded practices – that form the basis of claims to land.

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