TAASA Review Issues

June 2022

Vol: 31 Issue: 2
Metalwork
Editor: Jackie Menzies

Cover Image
Cigarette
box with peacock design (detail), Unno Shomin (1844-1915), 5.8 x 13.6 x 17.5cm. Photo: Courtesy of Sannenkaza Museum. See pp10-12 in this issue.

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Editorial

Jackie Menzies, Guest Editor

Metalwork in Asia dates back centuries BCE, over time becoming increasingly sophisticated, both technically and artistically. Today, contemporary expressions tend to be non-utilitarian and purely aesthetic. The field of Asian metalwork is enormous and varied and gratitude is extended to the contributors to this issue who introduce us to their own specific interests.

Pure metals such as gold and silver signal luxury and status, synonymous with pieces of outstanding quality and artistry, while alloys such as bronze, expanded the technical qualities and decorative vocabulary of metalwork. Both have been used to create religious icons, weapons (practical and ceremonial), ritual and utilitarian objects whose purpose and shape have been determined by their patrons, society and markets, local and international.

Valued for the lustre and sparkle they add, gold and silver appear as highlights not only on metalware, but on Japanese screens and lacquer, Indian miniatures, and even textiles. In this issue we are fortunate to have Christina Sumner’s sweeping overview of goldthread enhanced fabrics in Asian textiles and dress. From Turkey in the west, through Central, South, East and Southeast Asia ‘dressing for the best and to impress regularly called for the opulent gleam and glitter of gold and silver’.

Gold and silver jewellery has always been a symbol of wealth and power. One of the most elaborate, stunning and long-lived traditions is that of the Indian goldsmith; Anne Schofield gives us a taste by focusing on some of the fine pieces she has collected, their purpose and symbolism.

Michael Backman writes on the centuries-old tradition of Malay gold and silverwork, much of which was produced for the Malay courts. The tradition of Malay jewellery is illustrated by a sparkling gold waist buckle set with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds.  He discusses the Malay aesthetic, silversmith techniques and the provenance of pieces in private and public collections.

A widespread sociocultural practice across Asia is chewing the betel ‘quid’, prepared by combining shaved areca nut with lime paste wrapped in a betel leaf.  Paul Bromberg focuses on betel sets used in Thailand, providing detailed explanations of each constituent part, and lauding the Thai betel set as ‘an icon of Thai silverware’.  Praising the skill of Thai silversmiths, he bemoans its gradual disappearance.

Metal is used for musical instruments, the sound produced tempered by their shape, scale and alloy composition. On the less familiar topic of Burmese court music, Yuri Takahashi shares her deep knowledge by writing on the pair of tiny metal cymbals essential to instrumentalists.

Later Asian metalware traditions reflect the impact of Western markets and tastes as explored in Peter Morton’s article on Chinese export silver.  Within this huge family of silverware, he focuses on one aspect: that of commissioned presentation pieces which attest the skill of the Chinese silversmith. The inscriptions common to such pieces document significant individuals and occasions.

It is not surprising that Japan, with its long history of skilled metalsmiths connected to the samurai, features strongly in this issue. Judith Snodgrass writes on some exceptional pieces in the private Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto which collects superlative examples of 19th century Japanese metalwork from two distinct periods – the last quarter of the Edo (1603-1868) and the early Meiji (1868-1912). At this time Japanese metalwork attained a pinnacle of excellence in both technique and creativity, was displayed at numerous international exhibitions, and became important exports to the West. Jennifer Harris expands on this period through her examination of a lidded urn produced by Sh?mi Eisuke (1839-1900) whose work epitomises the metalwork skill so admired and collected by foreigners.

Lesley Kehoe brings us to the present, with an example of the superb experiential forms of Koji Hatakeyama. In Kehoe’s words, he ‘straddles the supposed disparate worlds of the traditional and the contemporary, the functional and the autonomous…’.  Now is an opportunity to congratulate Lesley who was honoured in April with the Japanese Government’s award of the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Ray for her contribution to Japanese culture in Australia.

Connecting Australia to the extensive tradition of metalwork in the Muslim world, Nur Shkembi writes on the contemporary Lebanese-Australian artist Shireen Taweel whose works draw on her copper-smithing techniques, Islamic pattern, design and architectural spaces to reference elements of the Australian Muslim story.

My own article reflects on a stimulating and poetic installation, the Illawarra Pavilion, shown in May at the Wollongong Art Gallery.

Finally, this issue celebrates the life of Lenore Blackwood who will be fondly remembered by many TAASA members and who contributed so much to TAASA’s Textile Study Group in Sydney.

Table of contents

3    EDITORIAL – Jackie Menzies, Guest Editor

4    PRECIOUS METALS AND CLOTH: THE ALLURE OF GOLD IN ASIAN TEXTILES
AND DRESS – Christina Sumner

7    MALAY GOLD AND SILVERWORK – Michael Backman

10   METALWORK OF 19TH CENTURY JAPAN IN THE KIYOMIZU SANNENZAKA 
MUSEUM – Judith Snodgrass

13   THE BETEL SET: AN ICON OF THAI SILVERWARE – Paul Bromberg

16   ARTIST PROFILE: SHIREEN TAWEEL – Nur Shkembi

18   CHINESE EXPORT SILVER – Peter Morton

20   THE USE OF SYMBOLS IN INDIAN SILVER AND GOLD JEWELLERY – Anne Schofield

22   THE RADIANT VOID: KOJI HATAKEYAMA’S ‘CONTAINED VESSEL’ – Lesley Kehoe

23   A BIG WORLD OF SMALL CYMBALS: MYANMAR’S METAL INSTRUMENTS – Yuri Takahashi

24   IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: A BRONZE LIDDED URN BY SHOMI EISUKE AT AGSA – Jennifer Harris

25   THE ILLAWARRA PAVILION AT WOLLONGONG ART GALLERY: SOME REFLECTIONS – Jackie Menzies

26    LENORE BLACKWOOD (1928–2021) – Helen Perry

27    RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES

29    TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: JUNE – AUGUST 2022

30    WHAT’S ON: JUNE – AUGUST 2022

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