Presentation Reflection

William Farquhar’s Collection of paintings interest me because I have always loved the look of old botanical drawing journals. This time, I actually get to learn more about the histories behind the drawings. Why were they drawn a certain way, what they were for? These days documentations are open for artistic exploration, and as humans I think we often take inspiration from what is already around us or from our past, our surroundings. Hence, I found it really fulfilling to see how artists of today have taken this particular collection of works and put a new meaning on it or expanded on it.

I enjoyed visiting the different galleries and museums to see the works in real life, and I think it really helped me appreciate the details on the paintings. In a society pervasive of technology, it is nice to go back to the traditional media of hand-drawn works. Working with my team I also get to learn a lot from my teammates research and get a better understanding of how the situation in the past brought about this collection of paintings.

Overall, the presentation was enjoyable and I had a good time reading up on Farquhar as well as getting to know more about the flora and fauna that I am so used to seeing in real life.

Final Project Reflection

So far in my life, museum visits have been fun, but objects never interested me beyond their aesthetics. Contemporary art interest me more. I like to find out why artists make their art and the hidden reasons behind them. However, a lot of times I’m not too interested in artefacts. I take them at face value. This project has for me shed a new light on museum artefacts. I learned what interesting stories objects tell if you take the time to read up about them. Every object tells so much about when they were made. They tell us the culture, the people who made them or received them, and even the political environment of the time.

Point is, they tell us so much about the human past, and play a really big part in helping people understand about humanity, how the world has changed, and are actual physical records of history! Most objects outlive humans and they carry on the legacy of their times…

This got me thinking, far in the future, commonplace objects we see today will become artefacts too! A modern sofa would be ancient, and laptops could be considered ancestors! It is a weird thought, but the culture of today will probably be studied by students in the future, and that just gets me thinking. It is fascinating. How everything evolves. What will it be like in the future and how much would society have progressed (or regressed hmm) before my time in this world ends? Internet culture is already so bizarre, it humours me how papers would be written about them.

Overall, I have learnt to appreciate museums and their artefacts more. I think every surviving object from the past is valuable, and I feel lucky to be able to learn more about them.

While the project is far from perfect, we altered out target audience and we did not achieve our ideal goals at the end, I think that I learnt a lot by trying to put myself in the shoes of children. I think we can all learn from children and be more outwardly curious, there is so much of the world to learn about!


Further Contextual Analysis – Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider

Previously, I have made some visual analysis and a little contextual analysis on the Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider. This time, I will be finding out more about the artefact’s background, form, and function, which I have not covered in the previous post.

Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider. China, Jingdezhen, around 1620-1644 (Late Ming dynasty). Porcelain

J I N G D E Z H E N    P O R C E L A I N

Jingdezhen is known as the porcelain capital of China. Previously called Changnan because it was situated on the south bank of the Chang River, Jingdezhen was once a humble market town that produced fine ware for official use from as early as the 6th century.

Other than for imperial uses, Jingdezhen also produced porcelain for the global market. Generally, the export of Chinese ceramics date back to the Song dynasty (960-1279). Supported by the government as an important source of revenue, the ceramics trade established in the Song dynasty continued to flourish through time. Chinese porcelain influenced the ceramics produced in other countries, and was in turn influenced by other countries. For example, importers had certain demands in their commissions, and many were also developed specifically for foreign markets.



Jingdezhen functioned with ungainly efficiency: with predictable impoverishment of potters, with rivalry among kilns and entrepreneurs, with considerable waste and worker dissatisfaction, without direct contact with its most important customers, without central direction over several thousand furnaces – yet with effective and flexible division of labor as a whole. It achieved domination of the global market in ceramics not only by virtue of the superiority of its product but also by the scale and organisation of its production. It represented the climax of handicraft industry, the grandest achievement of wholesale, concentrated manufacture before the age of steam-driven machines.

– The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History by Robert Finlay, Chapter 1: The Porcelain City: Jingdezhen in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 26

One of the reasons Jingdezhen was an ideal site as a centre for porcelain production is its geographical location. The city is abundant with minerals for porcelain manufacturing (kaolin – China clay, and petuntse – China stone), wood fuel for firing (kiln wood) and was near a river, allowing for a water system to be developed to transport raw materials around for porcelain production, and at the same time to ship ceramic products out of Jingdezhen.

Jingdezhen’s operations were optimal. Manufacturers specialised in different items such as storage jars or wine cups. Kilns developed to specialise in different aspects. Some produced imitations of pieces from different periods, some concentrated on large “dragon jars”, toad ware, and one specialised in dishes for Japan.

Workers were also highly specialised. Painters specialised in sketching specific motifs/designs or filling in colors, and were forbidden to develop other skills, in order for them to reach a level of perfection that would contribute to the uniformity and excellence of the painted wares.

From shovelling clay, to skimming of the creamy surface residue, beating the clay with wooden spatulas, making clay molds for “pressed ware”, to actually crafting the wares, Jingdezhen porcelain passes through many hands. Twenty artisans would work one after the other on a single piece of porcelain before it gets sent to the kiln. Workers blew glaze onto vessels as many as seventeen times. At least seventy craftsmen polish, decorate, and glaze the fired porcelain, before returning it to the kiln for a second firing.

All these allow for an effective mass-production system, which was beneficial to the ceramics trade.


K O – S O M E T S U K E

Ko means old and Sometsuke means blue and white wares. During the final decades of the Ming Dynasty, Chinese Imperial patronage slowed down and hence as a response, the Jingdezhen potters sought new markets for their wares. After all, the ideal system that was in place shouldn’t go to waste.

One such market was Japan, where tea ceremony was becoming increasingly popular. The tea ceremony requires different utensils, and this allowed Jingdezhen porcelain to rise up to the demand.



Woodblock print by Toyohara Chikanobu depicting a tea ceremony during the reign of Japan’s Emperor Meiji.

The tea ceremony is considered an art. From making the tea, consuming the tea as a guest, to the decorations, location and setting of the space, everything is perfectly organised. A host’s artistic eye in selecting the wares, decorating the space and setting the mood are important skills as hosts are responsible for conducting unique tea gatherings for the guests. Hence, other than the tea cups themselves and small dishes for sweets, flower vases and incense burners are also some of the wares that are produced for the Japanese market.

The ceramics used in tea ceremonies are not only valued for their practicality, but also for their aesthetic qualities. A key element in the practice is said to be the host’s connoisseurship skills; the host curates a selection of objects to use in a particular gathering.

I would imagine that the incense burner plays a part in setting the mood. In order to set a certain tranquil mood, incense would be burnt to fill the room with calming aromas.

Moreover, the stylistic representation of the elephant and rider, rather than just a normal, indistinguishable form, would reflect the host’s artistic style or interests, maybe in the whimsical.

This incense burner could also be a conversation piece for the tea ceremony participants, seeing that it was so thoughtfully selected. It is considered very polite for a guest to ask about something in the room that they do not understand, as the guests’ interest is appreciated by the host.



This type of incense burner was apparently particularly designed for the tea ceremony setting. It was inelegant to have smoke in the ceremony, so instead of burning incense sticks, fine glowing charcoal would be used. Small pastilles of blended incense (usually perfumed wood or ground mixtures) mixed with glue are laid on top of a thin sheet of mica, itself balanced on top of a charcoal stick glowing inside the censer.

The elephant holds the charcoal and the portly man acts as a cover. The holes in his ears and mouth is where the scent would flow through to gracefully permeate the room.



“Jingdezhen.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 27, 2018.

“Chinese Pottery – The Ming Dynasty.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 27, 2018.

“Chinese Porcelain: Production and Export.” Khan Academy. Accessed October 27, 2018.

“Ming Dynasty | Chinese Ceramics.” China Online Museum. Accessed October 27, 2018.

Li, Songjie, Shujing Wang, and Xinghua Li. The Development of Jingdezhen in the View of Cultural Innovation. Studies in Sociology of Science. 3rd vol. No. 4. Pp. 45-49. Canadian Research & Development Center of Sciences and Cultures, 2012. Accessed October 26, 2018.

Finlay, Robert. “The Porcelain City: Jingdezhen in the Eighteenth Century.” In The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History, 17-46. University of California Press, 2010.

Little, Stephen. “Economic Change in Seventeenth-Century China and Innovations at the Jingdezhen Kilns.” Ars Orientalis 26 (1996): 47-54.

“Ko-sometsuke: Chinese Porcelain for the Japanese Market.” Jorge Welsh. Accessed October 28, 2018.

“64. Rare Kosometsuke Elephant-Form Incense Burner 青花(古染付)象形瓷香爐.” Japanese Haniwa Female Figure日本埴輪陶女像 | Kaikodo Asian Art. Accessed November 1, 2018.

“Tea Ceremony Etiquette.” July 27, 2016. Accessed November 2, 2018.

Willmann, Anna. “The Japanese Tea Ceremony.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. April 2011. Accessed November 02, 2018.



Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider. Digital image. Asian Civilisations Museum. Accessed October 27, 2018.

Woodblock Print by Toyohara Chikanobu. Digital image. National Public Radio. Accessed November 2, 2018.

Week 10: The Movement of Plants and Animals

Although I would say I don’t have a specific favorite fruit, vegetable, spice, or flower, for the purpose of this journal I will be writing about the kamboja tree/flower, or more commonly known as the frangipani/plumeria.


Frangipani, William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings


As a child, I used to go for Balinese dance lessons and while I stopped at age 6, these lessons and the Balinese culture had left a lasting impression in my memory. I would meet up with my dance teacher whenever I get the chance to go to Bali, and there the streets would be littered with kamboja trees. I remember I loved getting ready for the performances – my mom would put on makeup for me and my teacher would dot my temples with white paint and put flowers in my hair. These are the bunga kamboja, as we call it. (Pictured right is me and my mom)


To me, the kamboja is indigenous to Bali. However, after some googling, I found out that to others, they might relate the flower to Hawaii – which made sense to me. Little did I know, we were all wrong! The kamboja/frangipani is in actuality, indigenous to the South Americas, specifically Mexico, in the 19th century. Others claim that it was brought over to the Americas from the Caribbean by Spanish priests.

I also found out that the kamboja is significant in many cultures – it is even the national flower of Nicaragua!

Reading up about the kamboja, I’m glad to know more about this nostalgic flower, but to me it will always be a reminder of Balinese dance and the simpler times of my childhood.

Free Writing – Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider

The object that I have chosen is the Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider.

Incense burner as an elephant with a rider. China, Jingdezhen, around 1620 to 1644. Porcelain.

I found this artefact striking in a whimsical way. It seems to be unconventional in terms of shape, and both the human and animal figures are very stylistic. The man’s pot belly, slanted almond eyes, facial hair and robes somehow remind me of wealthy Chinese men or drunken gods often depicted in movies. Another interpretation could be that the figure is sitting cross-legged in a Buddha-like pose, atop what could be seen as a lotus flower due to the petal-like patterns underneath him.









The elephant did not seem like an elephant to me primarily because of its ears, which are neither fan-shaped or big. Along with the tusk and the short nose/trunk, I thought the animal better resembled a warthog. Moreover, the depiction of short hairs on the animal is more descriptive of a hog’s hairy body compared to an elephant’s wrinkly skin. The relative size of the human to the animal also adds to it making more sense to be a warthog than an elephant to me. Otherwise, it might just look like a very whimsical, stylistic choice to portray the elephant in such a way.

There is a patterned symbol on its side, which might be a depiction of some things, but I am not sure of its significance or meaning. The elephant is also painted in a paler blue compared to the darker blue used for the human figure. This might have been done to direct more attention to the human figure, or it could have also been to signify the higher status of a human compared to an animal.


The form of the artefact confused me at first because it does not look like what I thought an incense burner would look like. After finding out that the portly man was just a cover, and that the elephant’s body would be the incense holder, it made more sense to me.

After a little more research, I found out that the oval symbol/pattern on the sides of the elephant were supposed to be decorative blankets covered in a vajra symbol alongside pearls and florets.


The vajra is an ornamental symbol that appears in Indian, Buddhist and Jainism mythology. Adorned by the elephant, it symbolises the resolve to apply Dharma, which is the teachings of Buddha. Seeing that the incense burner is usually used for religious purposes, the symbol seems to be in place.

This incense burner was supposedly owned by a Japanese client, and the both him/her and the creator might have never seen an elephant before, hence the whimsical image. Despite the anatomical inconsistency, the image of the elephant itself is exotic and hence would have given this artefact a certain value to it.

The white elephant is also the mount associated with the Buddhist saint Samantabhadra, the virtuous protector of the Buddhist Law. The portly figure that I previously likened to wealthy Chinese man or drunken gods could also allude to Maitreya, the Buddhist god of happiness and contentment. However, Maitreya is usually depicted with a sack of his belongings and a bald head.

The blue-haired elephant and figure hence do not exactly fit the possible references, but still has positive connotations through its general symbolism.

As a ko-sometsuke (old blue and white), which is a name for 17th century Chinese blue and white porcelain exported to Japan, this incense burner is one of many examples of the usage of the rider and mount symbol. Other animals include toads. The elephant is also widely used in other wares, and along with other animals, are represented in a comical and/or awkward way, like the pig-shaped dishes (check out Kimberley’s free writing on this). This rider and mount form is also similar to the kendi, a vessel used for communal drinking primarily known in Southeast Asia (check out Dawin’s free writing on a frog-shaped kendi).

When I first saw the artefact, I thought the holes apart from the one on the mouth were signs of damage, but apparently they were intentional, to let the smoke out.

Another cool thing that I found out was that “mounting the elephant”, or “jixiang” in Chinese, is a homophone for “auspicious” and therefore the symbol of the rider and the elephant became a popular theme in the porcelain wares.

Overall, after reading up, I found out many interesting things behind this artefact that tells me about the possible significance behind the usage of the symbols and iconography, and the relationship between the Japanese and Chinese in terms of trade relationships and influence over motifs and designs.


Area360 Inc. Incense Burner as an Elephant with a Rider – Asian Civilisations Museum. Accessed October 20, 2018.

“64. Rare Kosometsuke Elephant-Form Incense Burner 青花(古染付)象形瓷香爐.” Rare Kosometsuke Elephant-Form Incense Burner 青花(古染付)象形瓷香爐 | Kaikodo Asian Art. Accessed October 20, 2018.

Admin. “Vajra Symbol.” Ancient Symbols. Accessed October 21, 2018.

Week 7: Visiting the Asian Civilisations Museum

It’s so difficult to choose a favorite object! I liked different artefacts for different reasons – the colours, the materials, the stories behind them!

Also, I didn’t get to look at everything in detail as I had to rush off for a quiz back in school. Due to that, I didn’t get a chance to take pictures either!

However, I have some memory from when I visited the ACM a previous time, and I remember that one of the artefacts that caught my eye was this box (I shall make use of the available online database)

Mother-of-pearl casket, gilded silver pins and mounts, 16th century, Gujarat, India, collection of Asian Civilisations Museum

The casket is made of teak and covered with mother-of-pearl plaques held in place by small gilded silver nails. The lock is made with openwork silver, with leaves and scrolls. The central plaque is embellished with engravings and niello, of rich floral motifs. One of the most attractive aspects of this piece is the magnificent quality of the mother-of-pearl plaques which have a natural pinkish-blue hue. The finely engraved gilded silver appliqués on the sides are later added and exhibits a strong European influences. This casket may have been made to store valuables such as jewellery, but were sometimes also used as reliquaries for religious items.

– website

Mother-of-pearl is a natural material that has been used since the earliest human civilisations. Famed for its unique, iridescent lustre, it has been used for various decorative, ornamental or in the past, ritualistic purposes. I personally think that it is a beautiful material, and I’ve always admired the precision and attention to detail on handmade objects/works.

The casket did not seem very Indian at all, due to the patterns and the engravings which are more reminiscent of European motifs, like the fleur-de-lis, that remind me of a coat of arms.


They were probably made by Indian craftsmen who were influenced by European styles, due to the trade relationships, or might even have been commissioned by the Europeans themselves, therefore the styles are adjusted to better cater to the European market, or for upper class Europeans who were living in India at the time.

Overall, I love the intricacy involved in the creation of this casket, and I think that the handmade quality gives it that much more its value.



Week 5: Engaging with the Past

There are many different art forms that tell many different stories. As we become more and more open to ideas, artistic expression no longer has any bound. I think this is beautiful, and exciting, because while new media are being discovered, and people start discussing about new subjects, there is absolutely no wrong in reutilising old or traditional media, and continuing to explore existing subject matter. I think that with every artistic expression, there is a certain knowledge that is found or explored, be it something new for the world, or the artist’s own self-discovery.

Team 2’s presentation touched on how contemporary artists use Mughal miniatures as a medium, and transformed it to include their own interpretations or meanings. This is something widely done in the present too. Other than mediums and material, I also find it interesting how the approach towards different subject matters have evolved through the years.

A huge, complex subject matter is beauty. The notion of beauty in living and non-living beings has greatly changed throughout the years, and is still very varied through different cultures and opinions even until now. Through history lessons, we were taught about how beauty was perceived and appreciated.

In the case of humans, well-known artworks are David and Venus de Milo.

From romanticism, impressionism, abstraction, pop art, abstract expressionism, to performance art, beauty has been explored in many different ways in different cultures, regions, and time periods.

Today, I think that beauty is no longer bound by standards. The world is increasingly open and accepting that diversity is beautiful in its own way. This is reflected in many art works whether in traditional media form, or more modern media such as films and photography.

Week 3: Explorers: Age of Encounter

There are many great explorers in history, but only the westerners seem to receive the most fame. When I say “explorer”, most people would think “Christopher Columbus!” in the first few seconds.

Another explorer, Vasco da Gama, is credited as the first person to successfully travel from Europe, around Africa, and to Southeast Asia. Some say that he is the one who opened up the maritime trade route between Europe and Asia, and this feat may even compare to present day’s man landing on the moon.

Yes, they are great explorers, but the thing is, these Eurocentric narratives do not shine enough light on the people who helped make it a success; those who passed on the knowledge on how to navigate the seas, those with nautical and astronomical understanding, which are crucial to da Gama’s journey. They are the Arabs or Muslim/Gujju navigators.


Week 2: Benin Bronzes

This week we learned about African art during the Portuguese encounter, and the ivories produced in Sierra Leone. We learned about how the cultures started to influence each others’ art, the artefacts from which we can recreate an account of the past, of what trade was like, when it started. This, I thought, was interesting because in the past I thought of art history as simply trying to find out about each culture’s history, not how they intertwined with each other.

Due to travel and trade, many artefacts that were once made, gifted or exchanged end up in different places in the future (which is present day). When archaeologists and historians find artefacts from the past, they would almost claim it as their own (“finders, keepers”) and store such valuables in museums that are not necessarily the home country’s. Such was the case of the Benin Bronzes. I feel that it is unfair and immature if they were to claim the bronzes as their own, and while it is important to share cultures around the world, it is not very nice for anyone to do that.

I don’t think that they should necessarily be housed in the home country’s museum, but at least there should be a compromise in terms of ownership(?), since both parties are involved with the artefact somehow. One is the origin, one is the re-discoverer, and both play a big part in the artefact’s history.

Week 1: (sigh) I don’t like art history

because it is boring, narrow, uncultured and masculine.

Though I have to say, that was in the past. People of today have more reason to view art history more favourably because we have grown to be more inclusive and explore global cultures.

Art historians started to acknowledge a world beyond the west, and with everyone being treated increasingly equally, different accounts of history are now less biased as there is a collective, consensual narrative painted by the analysis of people of varying genders and cultures.

I think when we personally find things about art history that we are interested in, be it names, dates, pictures or biographies, it would be easier and more enjoyable for us to engage in art history.