One of the great pleasures of being editor of the TAASA Review is discovering again and again what a wealth of talent exists in Australia, and what fascinating work is being done here in the various fields of Asian art studies. Following the extremely successful March issue of the Review, which focused specifically on Islamic art, the current issue brings together some more varied articles, some of them containing information published here for the first time.
For example, it was exciting to learn late last year from Cairns-based lecturer Dr Maria Woronska-Friend (herself a frequent contributor to TAASA Review), that she had been assisting the research work of two post-graduate students from the Australian National University who were studying the Chinatowns of Far North Queensland. Published in this issue, Wei and Yanhong's research 'rediscovers' these sites - what there is left of them. Chinese emigrants played a large role in developing that part of the country in the last century, following the Queensland gold rushes, but very few intact buildings remain today to tell their tale.
Interestingly, it appears that the Chinese temples of north Queensland were neither Buddhist, Taoist nor Confucian. As Maria Friend comments: 'It seems that the religion of Chinese migrants from Guangdong Province represented a folk interpretation of the official religious doctrines, featuring numerous local gods who were given high status…. For instance none of the temples features an image of the Buddha.'
Perhaps Wei and Yanhong's article will stimulate further investigation not only into the religious beliefs of these people of the Chinese diaspora, but also into better housing for a more tangible record of their heritage - a fascinating collection of over 240 objects from the former Cairns Chinese temple, currently stored in a grocery shed. Though well cared for by dedicated volunteers (the images published here attest to that), the collection is, sadly, not available to the public except by appointment.
Lack of care for heritage objects is certainly not restricted to Australia. Bambang Sudianto writes from Jakarta for this issue about the virtually scandalous disregard for archaelogical interest shown by the Jakarta authorities last year, when remains of what were probably the city walls of old Batavia were either re-buried, displaced or 'disappeared' in the hurry to build a new underpass. In Thailand, reports Philip Courtenay, it's a similar problem from a different angle: there is too much interest in archaelogical sites from looters, professional and otherwise. Before archaeologists can properly investigate an identified site, looters will carry out their destructive trade, creating what has been called a 'cultural catastrophe' for the study of some ancient Thai ceramics.
More heartening news of conservation comes from Kutch, in India. Carole Douglas relates how the non-profit organisation Shrujan, near Buhj (site of the horrifying 2001 earthquake) is revitalising local communities and local textile skills, with startlingly beautiful results. On the same theme, Joanna Barrkman from the Northern Territory reports on an expedition to Sulawesi with the purpose of commissioning replicas of Bugis and Macassan flags for the MAGNT; the project is intended to demonstrate the early links between these traditional Indonesian seamen and the Indigenous Australians of our Top End. Ancient traditions were also kept vital at the extraordinary Durga Puja held at the Art Gallery of NSW earlier this year, recorded for TAASA Review by the photographer Andrew LaMoreaux and writer Chaya Chandrasekar.
The sometimes bizarrely gorgeous aspects of Indian religious ceremony spills over into Indian cinema. An exhibition first shown early this the year at the National Gallery of Victoria and from June at Sydney's Powerhouse, celebrates Bollywood in all that glory. Writer Shivangi Ambani explores the life of the Australian-born Bollywood star 'Fearless Nadia', who in the 1930s and 1940s even did her own stunts. Her characters are said to have embodied 'strong feminist principles', and her films achieved enormous financial success.
Speaking of financial success, Asian art has definitely been in the news during the first half of this year. An unusually large number of Australian auction houses have held sales featuring Asian art and artifacts, and some record sale prices have been achieved. The first, and possibly most magnificent and impeccably-sourced of these sales was held by Moss Green in Sydney in March (TAASA members got an evening preview). Chinese works of art, in particular, pulled bids substantially over the original estimates. In this issue of the Review, Philippa Kelly provides food for thought about the phenomenon.
Meanwhile, if you bought something beautiful at one of these auctions, perhaps you are thinking of donating it to a public collection? If so, TAASA's honorary accountant, Doug Shorrock, gives some basic advice here, which you can follow up. We hope you will.
4 UNKNOWN TREASURES: Chinese temples of far North Queensland - Wei Liao and Yanhong Ouyang
7 STITCHES IN TIME: Shrujan Revives the embroidery styles of Kutch - Carole Douglas
10 BATAVIA’S CITY WALL: PAST AND BEYOND - Bambang Sudianto
12 TALISMANIC FLAGS OF SOUTH SULAWESI - Joanna Barrkman
15 BOLLYWOOD THE BRAVE: Cinema India: The art of Bollywood. NGV in Melbourne and the Powerhouse in Sydney. - Shivangi Ambani-Gandhi
17 SHARING YOUR LOVE OF ART – A tax perspective - Bill Shorrock
18 THE LOOTING OF THAILAND’S ANTIQUITIES - Philip Courtenay
21 ISLAMIC ART IN THE AGNSW - Charlotte Schriwer
22 EMPERORS’ TOMBS OF THE WESTERN HAN: Pyramid building and dynastic topography - Tonia Eckfeld
25 THE PERSONALITY FACTOR IN ASIAN ART AUCTIONS - Philippa Kelly
26 DURGA PUJA: Celebrating the victorious - Chaya Chandrasekhar Photos Andrew LaMoreaux