This September issue of the TAASA Review focuses on the ever popular topic of jewellery and accessories, and sets out to publish papers presented at a packed one day TAASA seminar on "Jewellery & Adornment of Asia", held at the Art Gallery of NSW on 25 July 2009. Six experts covered topics ranging from traditional to sophisticated court ornaments, geographically straddling East, Central, South and Southeast Asia.
Yet despite the variety of subjects presented, some common themes emerged from the seminar, testifying both to common beliefs and preoccupations found in traditional societies, and the cultural cross-fertilisation that has always occurred through immigration, trade and territorial expansion.
Anne Richter set the scene by convincingly arguing that, in the traditional societies of Southeast Asia, jewellery (particularly gold) are not only items of value and decorative appeal, but can possibly be viewed as sacred art - potent and rich with symbolism connected to religious beliefs and traditions. Such jewellery could represent a microcosm of the universe, often combining female and male related symbolism in a unified cosmos, and the conversion of precious metals into jewellery may have been seen as mirroring the very act of creation, conferring power on both creator and wearer.
Wendy Parker further explores these ideas, examining common decorative motifs and forms in the jewellery sculpted in stone on the marvellous statuary found on the great temple complexes of Borobudur in Indonesia and later at Angkor in Cambodia. Traditions involving the making and wearing of highly symbolic jewellery survive to this day, as testified by contemporary ritual ceremonies held, for example, at Tenganan, Bali.
In a masterly presentation, Heleanor Feltham provided an overview of Central Asian societies as they evolved from 3000 BCE to the present. Cultural cross fertilisation through conquest and intermarriage produced a distinctive steppes style in gold and silver jewellery. Here, jewellery represented portable wealth, and its stylistic conventions mirrored the predominately nomadic preoccupations and beliefs of its creators. After 5th century BCE, Greek styles heavily influenced the region, continuing to do so well into the Christian era. Other influences, such as from China and Persia, were also evident, reflecting a complex history of migration, conquest and contacts throughout the region.
Anne Schofield's talk focused on the rich jewellery legacies of the South Asian continent, covering two aspects. One is traditional gold or silver jewellery that, as in other traditional societies, represents portable wealth but also carries strong symbolic and ritual value. The second is the elaborate and luxurious gem studded jewellery of the Mughal court, a hybrid of Hindu and Iranian designs that also drew on western enamelling techniques.
Sheena Burnell shared her passion for Chinese jewellery, mainly hair ornaments, which incorporate the brilliant, iridescent feather of the kingfisher bird. This form of decoration reached its peak in the Qing period (1644 - 1911) and particularly featured in the elaborate coiffures of Manchu court ladies.
Personal adornment in the form of beaded and embroidered accessories produced domestically by Peranakan Chinese women born in the Straits Settlements was the topic of the final paper of this seminar by Hwei- F'en Cheah. She painted a charming picture of women grappling with modernity at the turn of the 20th century, while producing this very traditional domestic handicraft.
The adornment theme has been carried through to most of the remaining articles in this issue. TAASA Review is delighted to feature the Chinese regalia collection at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo. It represents one of the largest Chinese textile ensembles on display in any museum in the world and demonstrates the rich collections which exist in Australia's regional museums, which we hope to feature more in future issues.
Other items that should interest readers include our regular item "In the Public Domain", featuring a description of a charming Mongolian thangka at the NGA by Christopher Haskett. Gill Green provides a review of a recently published book on Khmer jewellery. TAASA Review's commitment to featuring performing arts is evident in Susan Scollay's article on the Melbourne based Nefes Ensemble, who perform music based on Ottoman Court traditions, while John Millbank compares the newly released martial epic film "Red Cliff" to the classic Ming novel on which it is based.
Finally, TAASA Review features a celebration of the life of Cito Cessna by his friend and colleague Ray Tregaskis. A well liked and respected expert, and strong TAASA supporter, he will be very sadly missed.
3 Editorial: Adornment - Josefa Green
4 Magic, myth & microcosms in Southeast Asian jewellery - Anne Richter
7 Nomad culture, Greek style: Steppes jewellery and adornment - Heleanor Feltham
10 Gift of the gods: Jewellery traditions from Borobudur, the Bayon & Bali - Wendy Parker
13 India’s insatiable passion for jewellery - Anne Schofield
15 Halcyon days: Kingfisher feather jewellery & ornaments of China - Sheena Burnell
18 All that glitters: A look at Straits Chinese beadwork and embroidery - Hwei-F’en Cheah
20 A heritage preserved: Chinese regalia at the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo – Ben Langan
22 In the public domain: a Mongolian “Queen of Great Bliss” at the NGA – Christopher Haskett
24 “Illuminations of the Heart”: Music from the Ottoman court - Susan Scollay
25 Red Cliff: re-imagining an epic - John Millbank
26 Book Review: Khmer gold. Gifts for the gods – Gill Green
27 Cito Cessna (1945-2009) – An adventurous life - Ray Tregaskis
28 Recent TAASA activities
29 TAASA members' diary
30 What’s On: September – November 2009