TAASA Review Issues

June 2010

Vol: 19 Issue: 2
Editor: Josefa Green

Cover Image
Nagé ancestral horse with two riders [jara heda], Indonesia, 19th century or earlier, wood, 120.0 x 320.0 x 50.0 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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Editorial

This issue celebrates the much awaited exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), opening in August. Articles in this issue are devoted to exploring facets of Life, death and magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian ancestral art.

Robyn Maxwell, Senior Curator of Asian Art at the NGA, presents highlights of the exhibition, which encompasses animist sculpture, textiles and gold. The NGA’s core collection will be joined by contributions from major European collections: the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva and the Dutch National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, as well as contributions from US, Indonesian and local collections.

Common themes bind animist based ancestral art across Southeast Asia. It serves a religious function, communicating with and harnessing the power of the spiritual world to maintain order, achieve prosperity and bolster the power of elites. A shared belief in the powerful interventionist spirit of nature and the dead provides much of the impetus for and the power of this art tradition, whether expressed in the decorations found on utilitarian objects or used in ceremony and ritual.

The ceremonial function of beadwork, a less well-known aspect of Southeast Asia’s rich textile traditions, is explored by Hwei- Fe’n Cheah, Lecturer in Art History at the ANU. Beadwork was executed by men and is associated with the male sphere. Combined on cloth and clothing – “soft” textiles made by women – beadwork symbolically connected the male and female spheres and held protective powers associated with fertility and wealth.

Lucie Folan, Curator of Asian Art at the NGA, discusses ancestor imagery created by two major indigenous Taiwanese groups, the Paiwan and Yami. These are found on impressively carved house posts and panels, ceremonial staffs and canoes and serve to honour ancestors and pacify hostile spiritual forces. The exhibition will display the largest and most representative collection of indigenous Taiwanese art ever shown in Australia.

Also on display will be splendid works in gold such as a set of Chieftain’s gold jewellery from the island of Nias, loaned from the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore. Niki van den Heuvel, Exhibition Assistant, discusses the significance of art and regalia of this small island, acclaimed as among the most spectacular examples of Indonesian animist art.

The exhibition provides an opportunity to explore fast disappearing traditions, such as the use of fishing charms carved in wood or ivory by the Malanau of Borneo. Charlotte Galloway, Lecturer in Art History at the ANU, points out that amulets, fetishes and charms were widely used in Borneo for personal protection but are now quite rare as they were generally disposed of with their deceased owners.

The exhibition provides an opportunity to explore fast disappearing traditions, such as the use of fishing charms carved in wood or ivory by the Malanau of Borneo. Charlotte Galloway, Lecturer in Art History at the ANU, points out that amulets, fetishes and charms were widely used in Borneo for personal protection but are now quite rare as they were generally disposed of with their deceased owners.

An exhibition with a batik theme at the Caloundra Regional Art Gallery in Queensland, curated and discussed in this issue by Maria Wronska-Friend, will juxtapose a significant private collection of Javanese batik textiles with an exhibition of works from Dadang Christanto, which use batik to evoke memories of a traumatic past. Janet Mansfield offers armchair pleasure with her book review of a splendidly illustrated publication on “Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment” by Truus Dalder.

Finally, Michael Heppell entertains us with his account of transporting two 6 metre long belawing poles from Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia to a suburban Melbourne backyard.

On another theme, Anne O’Hehir, NGA Assistant Curator of Photography, discusses a new display of photographs from India at the NGA, drawn from its extensive Asia-Pacific collection. She explores the way in which Indian painting traditions and the imported modern medium of photography intersected in the 19th century. The display coincides with a major international conference “Facing Asia” on Asian studio photography to be held on 21-22 August. Details of this conference can be found on p28.

Jim Masselos’ article on Kutch painting from the later 1700s explores similar issues, this time the way these little known NW Indian paintings absorbed aspects of the Western vue perspectifs print tradition into a distinctive Indian framework: in the process, occidentalising Europe.

Finally, to satisfy ceramic enthusiasts, Linda McLaren gives us a lively account of a SEACS study tour of historic kiln sites and museums in China’s Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. This links us back to our main theme, as so many of the ceramic wares from these areas were destined for export to Southeast Asia.

Table of contents

3 Editorial: Southeast Asian ancestral art – Josefa Green

4 Life, Death and Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art – Robyn Maxwell

7 Beadwork of Island Southeast Asia – Hwei-F’en Cheah

9 Ancestors in the Architecture: Indigenous Art from Taiwan – Lucie Folan

11 Splendour for the Ancestors – the Sculpture and Gold of Nias – Niki van den Heuvel

13 Small and Potent – Fishing Charms and the Melanau of Borneo – Charlotte Galloway

14 Portraits from India 1850s – 1950s – Anne O’Hehir

17 In the Public Domain: A New Display at the National Museum of Cambodia – Oun Phalline and Martin Polkinghorne

18 Cultural Encounters: The Reverse Gaze of Kutch Painting – Jim Masselos

21 Book Review: Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment – Janet Mansfield

22 Batik of Java: Poetics and Politics. Caloundra Regional Art Gallery Touring Exhibition – Maria Wronska-Friend

24 Collector’s Choice: A Pair of Kenyah Belawing Poles from Borneo – Michael Heppell

26 Traveller’s Tale: A SEACS Study Tour of Historic Kiln Sites in Fujian and Jingde zhen – Linda McLaren

29 Recent TAASA Activities

29 TAASA Members’ Diary

30 What’s On: June – August 2010 – Compiled by Tina Burge

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