Final Project – Contextual Analysis

Date/ Period
Early 18th Century
RegionJapan, Arita
Object size: 36 x 22 x 12.5 cm
Collection of
Asian Civilizations Museum

Spirit keg depicting a Dutchman sitting on top of a barrel

The Keg is made from Japan during the early 18th Century. During the 17th century, China’s Ming Dynasty came across a political and economic upheaval. The beloved Chinese blue and white porcelain that was favored had ceased trading. The Dutch needed a substitute for their Chinese porcelain and turned to Japan.

Japan imitates the way China paints their porcelain; in blue and white, so that it fills the gap of Porcelain supply when China stopped their porcelain trade. There was a certain for of porcelain making by Arita Kilns that they developed for Japanese Tea Ceremony thus, the Arita kilns adopted their own motifs different from of the Chinese kilns. It is seen on the flowers and motifs on the barrel and square base. 

In the early 17th Century, Japan opened their country to the Dutch. That was when Japan developed knowledge from the Dutch; gathering the knowledge of Western technology and medicine.

The Keg is an example of Japan Arita kilns taking a Dutch man as their muse on their Keg; appealing to the Dutch. It is seen to be a Dutch man as it is seen from visual analysis that the figure’s action has a form of enthusiasm for alcohol and that it is an homage to the Dutch. This may be one of the examples of Japan giving tribute to the Dutch for bringing knowledge from outside their country and letting Japan gain study from that. The Figure gives off a positive and chirpy character which indicates how Japan sees the Dutch in a positive manner.

Thus, the Japanese kilns took the role of the porcelain supplier when the Chinese had stopped their porcelain production and exportation. They learnt the craftsmanship of the Chinese by imitating the technique to fill in the gaps that the West market had demanded. However, Japanese kilns had also utilized in their own art style. The motifs and craftsmanship had developed from there and thus, when the Chinese resumed their exports in 1980, there was a role reversal of the Chinese kilns imitating Japanese kilns’ Imari Style.

In the context of our group’s theme, the relation of Chinese kilns depicts the competitive market for porcelain (the demand and supply) and that there was an exchange of knowledge of techniques and craftsmanship. Thus, a network of cultures being traded during this time period all due to the fact the Chinese had stopped porcelain exportation during the Qing Dynasty.

Final Project – Free Writing

Spirit keg depicting a Dutchman sitting on top of a barrel, Early 18th Century, Porcelain, Japan
“The spirit keg is modelled as a drunk and cheerful open mouthed Dutch Man sitting astride a barrel, holding a bottle in his raised left hand and a stemmed wine glass in the other. The barrel is decorated on the front with a peony flanked by spraying plants and a ridged hole meant for a tap. The barrel rests on a hollow rectangular base decorated with flowers, volutes, and a zigzag pattern band. The detachable head is surmounted by a cap adorned with some foliate and petal shaped pompoms in iron-red enamels. His cuffs and his coat with buttons and zigzag motifs were all painted in blue and white, which is rarer than other figures decorated in polychrome colours. Ceramic figures on barrels were popular ‘follies’ in the Netherlands and other European countries. A variety of such figures were made in Delft factories in polychrome, as well as in blue and white from the early 18th century. This figure is a Japanese export porcelain example made in imitation of the comparable Dutch Delft wares.”
— Arts Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Visual Analysis:
The Spirit Keg shown  in the picture is from early 18th Century Japan; the same period when Chinese kilns produced porcelain in Japanese styles for Europe in the 18th Century. A man dressed in traditional chinese clothes sits on top a barrel as the figure holds a wine cup to hold alcohol and an bottle. A flower is seen on the figure’s hat as well. The figure looks positive; buoyant and chirpy as he pumps his left fist with the bottle to the air. I can infer from this figure’s action that it may be the enthusiasm with alcohol and that it is a homage to the Dutch for something being depicted close to home (- especially as the figure depicts a Dutchman).

The Spirit Keg is painted in blue and white; cobalt blue pigment  that is seen in Chinese porcelain. It shows how Japan had filled the gap in Porcelain supply during the 17th Century when China stopped porcelain exportation. Having a a Dutch Figure in the Spirit Keg shows that the Dutch turned to the Arita kilns in southern Japan.

The Keg is also painted with flowers and motifs on the barrel and the square base. The flowers are painted similarly that is used by Arita Kilns which can infer that the Japanese continues to adopt their own style despite having to fill the gap in Chinese porcelain supply and to attract the West buyers.

Week 07 Journal – Visiting the Asian Civilizations Museum

It was a different experience from the ACMs compared to times before as there was a guide explaining the collection and bringing the stories from the past come alive. As the collection was being described, as a visual learner, it was easy to visualize how life would have been as I was listening.

A view of Officials assembling for a trial at the hongs of Canton, 1807, Canton (now Guangzhou), China
My favorite object would be the painting of the Officials assembling for a trial at the hongs of Canton. When it was being explained that this was during the time of the trial of seamen from the British ship who had been involved in the death of a Chinese man, I didn’t expect to hear that as it looked like a normal depiction of a rendezvous between locas during the 19th Century ( I was standing far behind and I couldn’t see much other than a crowd of people and tall beautiful buildings). It was a surprise compared to what I had expected the description of the painting would be and made me do a double take and look at objects in ACM in different way. Being so used to ACM for the few visits here, I got used and took the objects for granted so I definitely am grateful there is someone explaining the objects in the 2 hours and give me a different outlook.

It was also a favorite because it was beautifully painted from the architecture of the buildings that showed some sort of European ties to the country, the colours picked that showed contrast from the ground and up so there is a shift in focus in the painting, prominent and detailed figures in the painting and, traces of how there is a sense  of aerial perspective that the painter had learned that shows the previous times China has exchanged art and information with the West and had have their own Renaissance to paintings.

Week 5 Journal: Engaging with the Past

Thanks to team 2, today we learned about contemporary artists using traditional mediums like Mughal miniatures. Who are some other contemporary artists who use traditional materials, genres, or subject matter from the past? Why are they engaging with the premodern?

While preparing for the presentation, I got the chance to witness Artists in this age engage with traditional materials or the traditional art styles to synchronise with modern mediums. For one, I know the Singh sisters used the vivid paintings  to expressing their pride in traditional values and heritage, even though they were living in London. It was a expression of their dual cultural identity, living in London but not of or from London, being different. This also explains the narratives in their art  that try to redefine narrow perceptions of heritage and identity in art and in society.

Colourful painting showing fifteen figures performing various task to prepare for a meal in a garden
All Hands on Deck, 1997, Rabindra KD Kaur Singh

However, another artist that I encountered lately was Phi Phi Oanh. Her work revolves around  lacquer and combined with her studies of the Vietnamese lacquer painting (sơn mài) tradition. Drawing from the hybrid nature of her personal history, Oanh constructs pictorial and evocative installations.

Pro Se, Installation photos courtesy of National Gallery Singapore, Radiant Material, June – September 2017.

Oanh uses her lacquer paintings and display them in modern iPads. She wanted to emphasize the strangeness and the significance of the material and the local in the age of the immaterial, virtual and digital reproduction. The significance lacquer was to use it as a marker for dialectical changes in Vietnamese society. The lacquer is a varnish that tries to preserve and is a metaphor for preserving cultural and religious relics to a painting medium for personal and nationalistic expression. It now is charged with the ability to also reflect and visualise the conditions of thought and sight in which we live.

Week 03 Journal – Art from West Africa

I think the part about these Eurocentric narratives, it is described that the explorers “discovered” these continents as if the continents have not been settled by others. The history is written from a Eurocentric perspective and only emphasizes on that view thus, many other perspectives from other travellers and thus, History isn’t fully revealed. Thus, having a biased narrative continue to shape our “history” of the world can be misleading as readers would only have knowledge about one side of the story and only remember an Eurocentric “famous” explorer. Thus, this emphasizes of how people should continue to be critical about the information they take; different way of seeing, and find out more of the full narrative. Continue reading Week 03 Journal – Art from West Africa

Week 02 Journal – Art from West Africa

The video evokes a compelling message in which George the Poet takes the perspective of the Benin people, the Bronze plaques and even the Benin Oba; expressing what they had would had witness  the arrival of the colonizers, the period of the colonization and the aftermath of that civilization. It was delivered beautifully in a well thought poetry as well.

Because it feels personal and as if listening to a perspective of the Benin people, there is an understanding and compassion for the Benin people.

This reminds of that scene in Black Panther when Killmonger was in the museum of Great Britain and asks “How do you think your ancestors got these? Do you think they paid a fair price? Or did they take it… like they took everything else?”
This makes

Week 01 Journal – “Why you don’t like Art History” Response

I favour Art History more than what I initially had thought.

From what I can remember, it starts off about the relatable factor of Art History being presented; in dark classrooms, flat images on screen, names and dates, and movements and napping; presented the world’s history in a linear and non-interactive manner and a challenge to remember.

I definitely remember the narrator in the video mentioning the series called “Civilizations” – that I feel like watching, and she describes it as a ‘wide view’ of the start of human creativity and development in other parts of the world. It is then compared to the 1969 air of ‘Civilization’, presented by an Art Historian, Kenneth Clark. It is Eurocentric personal account and it is biased by his words of ‘The great works of western man.’ Though it was popular series, this influences the people who watch it that whatever that isn’t of that standard set by Kenneth Clark, it would be considered ‘Barbaric’ thus, the narrator says it was ‘problematic’. Continue reading Week 01 Journal – “Why you don’t like Art History” Response

Project 2 Part II: Zine (Process + Final)


Before I began on my zine, I had wanted to focus on the theme of “People” from researching Boon Keng since it was a neighbourhood specially made for people and a very unique community of diversities; the old and young & diverse ethnic groups and religions living together.

Therefore, I wanted to focus on the people’s different AGES and CULTURES living in a small peaceful neighbourhood; loving together & interacting. Continue reading Project 2 Part II: Zine (Process + Final)