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.

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.

– Roots.sg 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.