TAASA Review Issues

March 2002

Vol: 11 Issue: 1
Southeast Asia
Editor: Sandra Forbes

Cover Photo
Silver cosmetic box from Cambodia, mode by a Khmer or Chinese silversmith in Phnom Penh in about 1900: it shows Micheno, the fish-failed child of Hanuman the monkey king and his mermaid wife. Hanuman is a key figure in the Romoyano (known in Cambodia as the Reamker), an epic tale originating in India and disseminated throughout Southeast Asia, and one of the many cultural elements held in common by the arts of this diverse region. The box is displayed in Trade winds: arts of Southeast Asia at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney until October. The exhibition is discussed by its curator on pp.2-4. Photo: Sue Stafford.

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Editorial

As historian Milton Osborne observes in his introductory essay to the catalogue Arts of Southeast Asia, the concept ‘Southeast Asia’ is of relatively recent origin. The term did not gain real currency until after the Second World War, when the West realised that many counties of the region shared similar strategic and political problems, as they endeavoured in various ways to rid themselves of their colonial pasts.

In fact, the countries of Southeast Asia have a shared artistic and cultural heritage going back many centuries to when Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and social systems, originating from India and later from China, first penetrated the region. This gives the countries their ‘unity in diversity’. However, indigenous traditions have always retained importance, and foreign ideas were adapted to suit local needs and values. Christina Sumner, curator of the Trade winds: arts of Southeast Asia exhibition currently at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney (which sets the theme for this issue of TAASA Review), eloquently outlines on pp.2-4 how she engaged with the many questions which arose when she was putting the exhibition together. Questions of how best to express and understand the ‘unity in diversity’ of the countries of Southeast Asia are very relevant for Australia today.

Some of the articles in this issue of TAASA Review seem to have a more personal flavour than usual. Australian composer Michael Askill’s major essay on ‘Being a Musician, Being a Buddhist’ is a fascinating insight into the mind of a creative artist – it was even more so when he originally presented it, accompanied by music, at TAASA’s Buddha symposium late last year. The first person account of the narrators’ wedding in South Sumatra on pp.14-15 is similarly personal, while imbedded in it is a description of the textiles which reflect such a major life event. Painter Phaptawan Suwannakudt tells how she grew up in Thailand as an apprentice to her father, a traditional mural painter, recalling how she read Jataka stories aloud in the temple while older artists painted the scenes on the walls. Nicholas Jose reveals how he and other judges for the 2001 Kiriyama prize for fiction debated what their criteria for deciding the winner should be – warmth, naturalness and empathy, they agreed. Good decision.

In line with the personal approach, this issue even features a kind of ‘social page’ of photos of TAASA people who attended events at the opening of the exhibition Buddha: Radiant Awakening at the Art Gallery of New South Wales last November. The exhibition and its associated events were enormously successful: more than 75 000 visitors were welcomed over its 15-week run.

Other articles range from Julie Ewington on the pivotal place installation holds in the contemporary art of the Southeast Asian region, to textile expert Gill Green on the costumes of Khmer dance, to Melanie Eastburn’s comprehensive review of the recent exhibitions in Australia by the internationally-known Chinese-born artist Wenda Gu.

The March issue of TAASA Review appears early in the Chinese Year of the Horse, which began on 12 February. This year, over 20 000 people joined the opening celebrations for Chinese New Year in Sydney – reportedly twice as many as last year. Like Tet in Vietnam, Chinese New Year starts on the night of the first new moon, and is all about beginning the new year with a clean slate and good intentions, and attracting favourable spirits. TAASA of course wants to do the same. Our Annual General Meeting will be held in March (exact date to be advised), and we invite all interested members to attend if they can. We also remind members to pay their subscriptions for 2002 if they haven’t already done so – remember, this is the last issue of TAASA Review you will receive unless your subscription is paid now!

Table of contents

TRADE WINDS: THE EXHIBITION – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER – Christina Sumner

INSTALLATION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA IN THE 1990S: HERITAGE IN MODERNITY – Julie Ewington

10  IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: A HEAD OF THE BUDDHA FROM CENTRAL JAVA – Renee Tanner

11  ASIA-PACIFIC FICTION: THE KIRIYAMA PRIZE – Nicholas Jose

12  DANCERS TO THE GODS – Gill Green

14  A CONTEMPORARY WEDDING IN LAMPUNG, SOUTH SUMATRA – Safrina Thristiawati and Chris Reid

16  THE ARTIST’S VIEWPOINT: VISUALISING THE STORIES – Phaptawan Suwannakudt

18  BEING A MUSICIAN, BEING A BUDDHIST – Michael Askill

21  VICTORIAN CERAMICS FOCUS GROUP: SIX MONTHS IN REVIEW – Brenda Purtell

22  BUDDHA: RADIANT AWAKENING: A REPORT ON TAASA’S NOVEMBER 2001 SYMPOSIUM

23  REVIEWS AND PREVIEWS 

REVIEW: PLAY • CLASH OF VALUES – Heleanor Feltham
Shattered Jade

REVIEW: EXHIBITION • WENDA GU’S COMMUNICATIONS – Melanie Eastburn
Intersections & translations 
From ink kingdom to biological millennium 

WHAT’S ON A SELECTIVE ROUNDUP OF EXHIBITIONS AND EVENTS IN AUSTRALIA AND OVERSEAS

27  MEMBERS’ DIARY

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