It was common in the 19th and 20th centuries to point out that trade followed the flag. The aphorism went some way in explaining the nature of empires and what happened under their sway. It did little though to acknowledge the intricacies of regional trade and cultural interactions that had been taking place for millennia.
This issue of the TAASA Review focuses on the way in which local art and culture responded to the influences which came through trade, both inter-regional and international. Perhaps our concerns can set up another aphorism: culture follows trade. In general the articles examine the spread of cultures, belief systems, and their arts as they piggybacked on the extensive trade networks that provided contacts between different parts of Asia. While the arts did not drive trade they were an ancillary in its movement, as trade carried new objects, novel designs and new kinds of perceptions and beliefs from one part of this vast region to another.
Summarising the endeavour of this issue is the East of India exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Sydney. Through her discussion of the multiplicity of interactions on display, Michelle Linder outlines the connections between India under the sway of the East India Company and the Australian colonies in the first half of the 19th century, an interaction little acknowledged in our national history. That the East India Company had a profound impact upon the territories it dominated is shown in Carol Cains’ discussion of Company painting, works commissioned by Company officials in India. In the days before photography, Company personnel employed local artists to record the sites and society of the strange and different place they were ruling. The artists produced a European and Indian mélange of forms - and a distinctive new body of work.
Trade provided pathways for the movement of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam and their associated artefacts for centuries before the arrival of European traders. Indian beliefs were carried to Southeast Asia through trade and exchange networks from as early as the beginnings of the common era. Pamela Gutman discusses the earliest evidence of this transfer and how these beliefs were reinterpreted in the local context by examining a two-faced stele from Sri Ksetra in Burma. Nearly 1000 years ago, according to Gill Green, similar interactions are implied by the existence of common decorative patterns based on Indian trade textiles, which provided the background for both Buddhist and Hindu narratives on statues and walls in Himalayan Alchi and Cambodian Angkor respectively.
Well established patterns of sea trade amongst Asian countries also existed in relation to ceramics, such as the so-called Nanhai or Southern Seas trade, long before Western traders entered the lucrative market in the 1500s. Jackie Menzies provides an overview of this movement of goods, using the standing display of trade objects in the Art Gallery of NSW.
With the Europeans, first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, British, Spanish, Danish and French, came an equally radical, if different, metaphysic. Olivia Meehan discusses the rapid but short-term impact of the Portuguese on Japanese narrative art forms and Pamela and Ron Walker in their account of Filipino Santos, present marvellously fresh Christian images re-imagined within a distinctive Asian context.
James Bennett explores holdings in the Art Gallery of South Australia to illustrate how trading relationships expose the cultural interests of each party. In the case of foreign trade with Indonesia, the Dutch were interested in gold and weaponry, while Indigenous Australians enmeshed the Indonesian fishermen and trepang trade into their histories through bark painting. Globalisation and transnational interchange are clearly not just a recent construct. However, in a contemporary world with delineated geo-political boundaries, ownership of cultural symbols becomes an often vexed issue. As Marshall Clark points out, the rivalry between Indonesia and Malaysia over batik and wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) traditions demonstrates the significant role visual culture and tradition play in creating national identity.
These articles offer insight into some of the ways trading interactions through Asia have influenced visual culture both within the region and internationally. We are reminded that across Asia, culture is a dynamic entity and that this is central to its vibrancy and diversity. Yet like so much of matters Asian no single explanatory framework seems able to cover all of the complexity and the riches of this vast continent.
3 Editorial: TRADE AND CULTURE
Jim Masselos and Charlotte Galloway
4 EAST OF INDIA – FORGOTTEN TRADE WITH AUSTRALIA AT THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM
7 FIRST ENCOUNTERS: THE PORTUGUESE IN JAPAN
10 MEDALLION PATTERNS AT ANGKOR WAT AND ALCHI (LADAKH): SHARED MEANINGS
13 CULTURAL POLITICS: BATI K AND WAYANG IN INDONESIA AND MALAYSIA
16 UNLIKELY CONNECTIONS: THE MAKASSANS, THE YOLNGU AND THE DUTCH EAST INDIES COMPANY
18 A PAIR OF 19TH CENTURY COMPANY PAINTINGS FROM PATNA AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA
21 THE SPREAD OF INDIAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS: A FIRST CENTURY BURMESE STELE
23 LAUNCH OF TAASA SYDNEY CERAMICS STUDY GROUP, 4 APRIL 2013
24 IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: TRADE CERAMICS IN THE AGNSW
25 BOOK REVIEW: CHINESE EXPORT CERAMICS
26 COLLECTOR’S CHOICE: A COLLECTION OF FILIPINO SANTOS
Pamela Walker with Ron Walker
27 ARMCHAIR TRAVEL TO TAASA’S AGM
28 BOOK REVIEW: ARTS OF VIETNAM
29 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
29 TAASA Members’ Diary: JUNE 2013 - AUGUST 2013
31 WHAT’S ON IN AUSTRALIA: JUNE 2013 - AUGUST 2013
Compiled by Tina Burge