Feature: Bronze Drums and their Motifs

© David Richardson

Dong-son drums and the motifs found on them have fascinated several OATG members. Chris Buckley has conducted a phylogenetic analysis of warp-ikat motifs, including a comparison of the geometric figures found on mainland and island Southeast Asia textiles with those found on Dong-son drums. He found little or no overlap. In particular, the hook and rhomb motifs characteristic of Southeast Asian weaving that are often claimed to be Dong-son were not identified on Dong-son bronzes.

For further information on the spurious link to the Dong-son culture see the work of OATG members David and Sue Richardson here. They show the differences between the sophisticated motifs found on the Heger type-1 Dong-son drums found in Eastern Indonesia and the anthropomorphic figures found in local weavings. They have also written on the anthropomorphic figures found on moko drums here.

Being welcomed to a village on Alor by Mama Agus Fanmalai of Suku Marang. The function of this clan is to connect the people with their ancestors. © David Richardson.

Hourglass-shaped bronze drums called mokos are still in use today on the island of Alor in the Indonesian archipelago for ritual celebrations and as part of the marriage exchange. Ownership of certain types of moko conveys social status. The majority of them probably came from north-east Java. In 1916 the government conducted a registration of the mokos on Alor and at that time they numbered over two thousand. This number is probably conservative as many people would have hidden their mokos to avoid registering them.

They are also occasionally found on sale in the local market. These drums come in a variety of different sizes and were probably brought to Alor by Makassarese and Chinese merchants. In the past they were used as  a medium of exchange – just like a currency.

A moko drum for sale on the bazaar. © David Richardson

Indeed the provincial museum in Kalabahi, the capital of Alor is called the Museum of a Thousand Moko – however we have never counted to see if there really are 1000! This museum also has a fine display of textiles, including some made of barkcloth, and weaving equipment. Their collection of baskets is also strong, and ceramics include a VOC plate.  

Leaflet from the excellent Museum of 1000 Moko

On Wednesday 20 February 2019 at 17:15 Anna Karlström, a researcher in heritage studies at the department of art history/conservation, Uppsala University Campus Gotland, will give a seminar on bronze drums at SOAS, London. Below is the information on this seminar, provided by the SOAS website.

“Bronze drums were produced and used within animist traditions, in a pre-Buddhist era almost three thousand years ago. Dong Son culture, bronze age, early civilisation and sophisticated art production are concepts that most scholars within Southeast Asian archaeology and art history immediately think of when bronze drums enter the academic discussion. The drums have been, and still are, examined primarily as prehistoric artefacts or pieces of art and categorised according to established typologies. Archaeologists and art historians are looking into distribution patterns of the drums through which trade, exchange and cultural contacts can be traced, as well as production methods, techniques and iconography. Little attention has been given the fact that these artefacts constitute a living heritage, and that they are still being produced and used in various ways for different purposes all over Southeast Asia. In some contexts the drums are still parts of animist traditions, in others they have been incorporated into Buddhist traditions and religious practices, linked to cultural heritage politics, identity and nationalism. In this presentation, the transformation of bronze drums as heritage is examined through a case study from Vietnam, but also related to other examples from mainland Southeast Asia.”

This event is free, but registration is required.

Location: SOAS Russell Square: College Buildings Room 4429

 

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Exhibition: From Kabul to Kolkata – Of Belonging, Memories and Identity

 

 

Exhibition dates: 11 October – 15 December 2018 (Closed Sundays and Mondays)

Afghans have travelled to India for centuries but it was in 1892 that they were given a romantic, and lasting identity. This link was set into history when India’s most famous modern poet and one of its greatest cultural icons, Rabindranath Tagore, penned his short story about the Kabuliwala or man from Kabul.

This exhibition of photographs by Moska Najib and Nazes Afroz concerns a specific intra-Asian connection between Afghans and Indians that highlights larger historical patterns of trans-Asian migration, cultural resilience and transformation, and shifting senses of self, community and home.

While until a few decades ago, real Kabuliwalas were a common sight on the streets of Kolkata, as in most cities of north and central India, today stereotypes and standard attributes have formed an ambiguous image of these people. Moska Najib, an Afghan by origin but living in India for most of her life, says, ‘Being away from my homeland, I’ve been always drawn to the themes of identity and new belonging. This inspired me to photograph one of the oldest settled Afghan communities in India in modern times.”

More information about the project, including a short video, can be found on the From Kabul to Kolkata website. If you click on the “More” link at the top, you can access further background information. Moska describes how during their first encounter with the community, they realised that they kept a dual existence – one inside their home and one outside. In their abode, they’d wear their traditional attire and follow the typical customs observed in Afghanistan – the habit of sitting on the carpet and not on sofas or chairs, sharing a communal meal from the same platter, using the spittoons and drinking endless cups of green tea.

For more information about the exhibition visit the website of the Brunei Gallery

Location: Brunei Gallery Exhibition Rooms at SOAS, 10 Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H  0XG

Exhibition: Empire of the Sikhs

 

Exhibition dates: 12 July – 23 September 2018

This major free exhibition telling the story of the last great native kingdom which challenged the British for supremacy of the Indian subcontinent opens today. The Sikh Empire (1799–1849), which spanned much of modern day Pakistan and northwest India, was forged by the ‘Napoleon of the East’ Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) who became known as Sher-e-Punjab, the Lion of Punjab, over his forty-year reign.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh established a powerful military meritocracy that included many European officers. His empire offered a crucial buffer state between the British and incursions via the Khyber Pass. The one-eyed king was a trusted ally of the British but also a potentially formidable opponent.

The inevitable clash with the British came in the form of two bitterly fought Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845–46, 1848–49) in which British pre-eminence hung in the balance as they came within hours of a total surrender. But through treachery, victory was turned into defeat for the Sikhs whose territories, treasury and fighting men became incorporated into British dominion.

A source of great interest to British visitors to the Sikh royal court prior to annexation was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was wrested from Afghan hands in 1813. The fabled jewel was eventually presented to Queen Victoria on 3 July 1850 in the armlet that Ranjit Singh had specially made for it. Fitted with a rock crystal replica of the original, uncut Koh-i-Noor, it is now preserved as part of the Royal Collection and will be one of the highlights on display along with a stunning array of over 100 objects and works of art from leading private and public collections.

Among them will be glittering jewellery and weaponry from the Sikh Empire including personal items that belonged to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the most famous of his thirty ‘official’ wives, Maharani Jind Kaur. They were the parents of the deposed boy-king Maharaja Duleep Singh and grandparents to prominent suffragette (and goddaughter to Queen Victoria), Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.

For more information visit the website of the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London.

Event: Politics of Collecting Asia: 1800 – Present

 

Event date: 28 April 2018 10:00 – 16:30, London.

The global history of collecting has been profoundly shaped by national and international politics over the past two centuries. Taking geopolitics as its starting point, this symposium will examine the history of collecting Asian art objects in a range of geographical locales, from Britain and continental Europe to East and Southeast Asia.

Topics covered include Competition and Collaboration: Stamford Raffles and Collecting in Java, 1811-1816, The First Private Museum in China? Revisiting Pan Shicheng and His Collecting in Canton, and The Poetics and Politics of Collecting and Displaying Kachin Culture.

Online registration is essential for this SOAS School of Art event and further details can be found here

Exhibition: Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams

brunei-gallery-embroidered-tales-and-woven-dreams

Exhibition dates: 19 January – 25 March 2017

The exhibition Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams is a colour-coded social history of the vast and geographically varied landscape known as the Silk Road (or originally the ‘Seidenstrasse’, a name given to this road by the German explorer Richthofen), which stretches from Central Asia to Western Europe. Its regional history will be explored through the embroidered tales and woven textiles of the communities who lived north and south of this ancient trade corridor across Asia.

The textiles on display have recorded a wonderful vernacular art, as embroidered tales, told by women storytellers, who were guardians of their customs and traditions for their individual tribes, castes and communities.

This exhibition, with a series of related lectures by internationally renowned lecturers, will examine the immensely rich, culturally fascinating identity of the Central Asian, Middle Eastern and South Asian landscapes, through the heritage of their embroidered textiles and costumes. It is a rich seam of historical material, meticulously embroidered and woven.

While the Silk Road, as a concept, refers to an area that underwent a thousand years of turbulent history, the physical links were comprised of smaller land routes, often through difficult terrain, and passable only by specialised trade caravans.

The northern ‘–stans’ of the Uzbeks, Kyrghiz, Tajiks, Turcoman and Khazaks exchanged goods with distant neighbours in Afghanistan and northern India, and, depending upon varying political arrangements, the even more distant powers of South Asia, Persia, Byzantium, Russia and China.

The exhibition will briefly examine the political upheavals that destroyed the lives of these communities and their nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled lifestyles.

For more information, visit the website of the Brunei Gallery, London, UK.

Exhibition: World Ikat Textiles – Ties That Bind

Brunei Gallery - World Ikat Textiles

Exhibition dates: 15 April – 25 June 2016

This exhibition celebrates the rich legacy of ikat, an age-old textile technique stretching across the continents of the world. This unique collection brings together an array of priceless pieces of ikat textiles with live demonstrations by master weavers, a symposium, film screenings and a book display. This program reflects the World Crafts Council’s global commitment to nurture, promote and revive precious indigenous craft skills. It also serves to connect the skilled practitioners from across these diverse regions to contemporary society and promote greater awareness of the handwoven tradition and its innovation.

There is also a series of events scheduled in relation to this exhibition:
· Thursday 14 April: Opening of exhibition with focal lobby display on ‘mud-mee’ ikat textiles of Thailand
· Friday 13 May: Focal lobby display changes to Indian ikat textiles.
· Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 May: Symposium ‘Ikat Textiles Ties That Bind (Past, Present and Future)’
· Thursday 9 June: Focal lobby display changes to Central Asian ikat textiles with supporting event.

For more information, visit the website of the Brunei Gallery, London.

Event: Scott Redford Talks about Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets and Seljuk Art for ORTS

ORTS - Medieval Anatolian Animal Carpets

Event date: Wednesday 23 March 2016, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Scott Redford, Nasser D. Khalili Professor of Islamic Art & Archaeology at SOAS, will give a lecture on medieval Anatolian animal carpets and Seljuk art. Scott has published widely on the art, archaeology and architecture of medieval Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.