Li-Xuan Teo

Li-Xuan is a historian focused on the interpretations of race and the human body, Li-Xuan’s main research interests revolve around museums, fashion, and material culture. She specialises in the history of the British Empire, particularly in Southeast Asia, and is currently working as a Project Curator of the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) at the British Museum.

Research Project

Constructions of Race and Identity: Fashion in photography from the Malay Peninsula, 1890-1940

An in-depth analysis of colonial photography through the lens of fashion and race. 

Material Culture, Modern, Asia, Media, Textiles, Decolonisation, Knowledge Production, Literature

Sharp Street Depot of Hongkong Tramways Limited in Causeway Bay, 1980s, Original photo by shared by Acstudio on Flickr, Edited by Annie Lye.

Entitled, “Constructions of Race and Identity: Fashion in photography from the Malay Peninsula, 1890-1940”, this dissertation was focused on the relationship between material culture and the construction of narratives within photographic media – from postcards to studio portraiture. It seeks to interrogate the different agendas behind the creation and circulation of an image through the analysis of fashion, adornment, and presentations of the body.

This dissertation seeks to uncover questions of agency, personhood, and bodily autonomy in the relationship between the photographer, the subject, and, indeed, all other parties involved in the process of photography. To look past the idyllic landscapes and smiling faces, into the circumstances surrounding the creation of the image itself. By focusing on fashion and the fashioned body in different types of photographs, it shows how the politics of domination, identity, and personhood came to be reflected on the very body of the colonial subject, intertwining with issues of wealth, status, gender and community.

Photographer Unknown, Malay Woman, dated 1925, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia © Malaysia Design Archive

Photographer Unknown, Kaum India Muslim, Early 20th Century, Penang © Penang State Museum.

Symposium Presentation ︎︎︎

Transcultural Objects Panel ︎︎︎

©2022 by V&A/RCA History of Design MA