Category Archives: Journal


Figure 1. Frog-Shaped Kendi

“The Frog-shaped Kendi” (Figure 1.) was made in China, early 17th century. The porcelain is paired with 19th-century Turkish silver mounts. [1] Kendis are a well-known form in the Southeast Asian repertoire of vessels, and it has played an important role in daily life and rituals of the region since ancient times. The word Kendi is a Malay word coming from the Sanskrit kundika (water pot) and indicating a ceremonial vessel used for ritual cleansing and drinking. [2] Structurally, a typical Kendi has a bulbous body, vertical filling neck which also serves as a handle, and a narrow spout. It is created so that water could be poured out without the sprout coming in contact with the drinker’s lips, thereby avoiding contamination. [3]

Diversity of Kendis
Kendis come in many different shapes and designs, they were made throughout Southeast Asia. Apart from its utilitarian purpose as a water container, they were often used in rituals as pouring vessels in wedding and various ceremonies. For instance, in Bali, a bride signified submission to her husband by pouring water over his feet with a Kendi. [4] The Khmers considered Kendi essential for Hindu rituals of pouring sacred waters over the King at his coronation. [5] The Khmer and Thai favoured Kendi in zoomorphic forms, such as ducks and geese; the Vietnamese made some shaped like elephants and storks. [6] These examples just go to show that not all Kendis are made for the same function or purpose, it changes according to the different cultures. The stylistic differences could also suggest that these Kendis were part of the lively international trade in ceramics wares.

Cross-cultural Elements
It is interesting to see the cross-cultural encounter between China and Turkey in “The Frog-shaped Kendi”. The iconic blue-and-white porcelain is modelled in a form of crouching frog. In Chinese traditional culture, the frog is associated with healing and good fortune in business. [7] On a closer look, floral motif such as tulip and carnation can be seen on the silver mount, it connotes Turkey, particularly the Ottoman Empire. Flowers has manifested itself in almost every aspect of arts in the Ottoman court. The elite and high-class society of the Ottoman Period had an immense love for the tulip as it symbolises nobility and privilege. [8] Therefore, the rarity of the material such as porcelain and silver coupled with symbolic motifs on “The Frog-shaped Kendi” implies that it was meant for someone of a high status or the royals.

Figure 2. Hookah Base in the Form of an Elephant

Other Types of Kendis
On a material level, the “Hookah base in the form of an elephant” (Figure 2.) seems to share the similar materials used in “The Frog-shaped Kendi” but it is not used as a storage vessel.

The term “Hookah” means it is an oriental smoking device with a tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water. [9] (In modern day context, it is known as “Shisha”) This elephant kendi has a trunk that is made of silver, it has an opening for the smoking tube and a tobacco burner perched on the elephant’s back.

Another notable example of Kendi that uses Silver and Porcelain would be this “Crescent-shaped Kendi” (Figure 3.), it was made in the 15th century Ming Dynasty. [10] The graceful shape of this Kendi is said to imitate the bronze water containers of Persia and Mughal India. [11] The crescent moon form of this Kendi would have had great symbolic appeal to the people in the Islamic societies. The moon plays an important role in Islam because the date of Ramadan is determined through the use of a lunar Islamic calendar. [12] Furthermore, the crescent moon (also known as Hilal) defines the start and end of Islamic months. The need to decide the precise time of the appearance of the crescent moon was one of the lead for Muslims to study astronomy. [13]


Figure 3. Crescent-shaped Kendi

All in all, Kendis played an interesting role in cross-cultural exchange, different themes, functions, styles, shapes were interpreted freely. At a glance, people usually think Kendis are merely used to store liquid or act as a decorative container but there is so much more to it than that — the different forms, materials, the symbols. Potters around the world have reimagined and manipulated Kendis into various artistic forms to appeal to a certain cultural group or win customers.

[1] Area360 Inc. Frog-Shaped Kendi – Asian Civilisations Museum. Accessed October 25, 2018.

[2] “Kendi.” Accessed October 25, 2018.

[3] Ibid

[4] Finlay, Robert. The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Cooper, J. C. Symbolic & Mythological Animals. Hammersmith, London: Aquarian Press, 1992.

[8] Pembecioğlu, Nilüfer. Narratives through Turkish Perspective: Transmedia Storytelling and Intertextuality Examples in the Postnetwork Era. Cluj-Napoca: Argonaut, 2014.

[9] “Hookah.” Accessed October 25, 2018.

[10] National Gallery of Australia. Crescent Moon. Accessed October 25, 2018.

[11] Ibid

[12] “Eid: How Is the Start of the Muslim Festival Determined?” BBC News. June 24, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018.

[13] Ibid

Image Sources
Figure 1: “Frog-Shaped Kendi.” Digital image. Accessed October 25, 2018.×1200/12/125cd67a-234b-473c-96a5-e64fa906b6ba.jpg.

Figure 2: “Hookah Base in the Form of an Elephant.” Digital image. Accessed October 25, 2018.×1200/3d/3d441782-97a5-49f5-98a1-c986a468e454.jpg.

Figure 3: “Crescent Moon.” Digital image. Accessed October 25, 2018.

Week 8 Response: Blue Willow Plate

Week 8: Prof Sujatha brought one of her prized collection of the “Blue Willow Plate” to class for us to interact and have a closer examination. That experience was certainly more interesting than seeing flat images on projection screen. I’ve actually seen the pattern multiple times before but never could I have imagined the different elements like (three men, a boat, two bird, etc) could mean something! The history behind Blue Willow Pattern is funny and surprising for me! Even though the Blue Willow pattern has a Chinese look and story, it was actually created by the westerners who mass-produced that iconic pattern on earthenware.

What shocked me the most was how the story of the star-crossed lovers who transformed into doves is entirely fictional! It was actually just a marketing ploy to get people to buy the “chinaware” when it was first introduced in the western world.  Narrative is a powerful tool that certainly changes the way we look at a product and it may even potentially lure people into buying a product/belief!

Week 7 Response: ACM Visit

The class went to the Asian Civilisations Museum to start preparing for their final project. Huge thanks to Clement for the insightful sharing and walking us through the different galleries with detailed explanations.

Well there are many things that intrigue me but the one that caught my attention was the Mounted Incense Burner.

What is interesting about this piece is its cross culture influence!
Although it is assembled in Europe, all the different components came from all over the world. (Porcelain: China, Jingdezhen, around 1700 Glided bronze mounts: France, mid-18th century Lacquer Bowls: Japan 18th century Red Coral)

Apart from it being aesthetically pleasing, it functions as an incense burner. I believe it will look magical the moment smoke emits out of the openings.


Frog-shaped Kendi

Wanli Period (1573-1620), Ming Dynasty


H: 21.0 x W: 18.0 x D: 12.5cm

Porcelain, Cobalt blue pigments, Silver

This zoomorphic looking object is made of porcelain decorated under the glaze with a blue pigment, cobalt blue. The appearance of this particular object clearly shows that it is a vessel created for holding liquids as it has a long neck and a lid. It is easily recognised as a “Kendi” from other pouring vessels such as a pitcher or jug by the absence of a handle. The word “Kendi” is a Malay term derived from the Sanskrit word “kundika”, a small ritual pouring vessel.

The vessel is modelled as a crouching frog and it naturalistically painted. Frogs are valued in China because they keep down insect pests on crops and they are famous in Chinese culture as a sign of prosperity. The details painted by the potters on the vessel were spectacular, the little floral patterns were added on the fine dots to mimic the texture of a frog skin. It is coupled with a silver mount which is connected by two chains to a flower-like stopper at the spout. The style of the silver mount is distinctively different and it has a hint of middle east influence. This could suggest that this particular vessel has travelled out of china and reach the hands of patrons of another culture.

Porcelain alone was already a highly sought after ware type that was expensive to buy and consider a status item by many elites. With the additional attachment of silver mount on top of porcelain, indicate that this is a precious vessel that only aristocrats will be able to afford it.

Week 5 Response: Engaging with the Past

Bamboo is popular in many Southeast Asian countries, as it is known for its sturdiness and flexibility. Bamboo can be used for many different purposes such as building material for scaffolding, building bridges and houses. The fast depletion of bamboo as a building material causes concern for many. In Indonesia, many bamboo forests are replaced by profit-making plantation. There is also a growing preference for construction companies to adopt modern building methods that use concrete and steel.

Joko Avianto (An Indonesian Artist) highlights the issues and valuable qualities of bamboo and brings our attention to the environmental and cultural issues brought about by the destruction of bamboo. He has been using bamboo for many of his works, which brought him to many exhibitions around the world.

In 2018, Joko created a bamboo sculpture titled “Getah Getih” and installed it at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta to celebrate Independence Day. This piece was held up by 73 bamboo stilts, symbolising 73 years of Indonesian independence. The intertwine shape was made to emulate a rope knot, which symbolises unity. Although many netizens have voiced various negative comments about the work, saying it looks like two people having intimate contact and some also said the work was a waste of money. I personally think that this piece successfully attracted the public attention and had created potential discussion topics.

Week 3 Response – “Explorers: Age of Encounter”

Before being exposed to these sea-based trade history, my idea of spices were just powder that are meant for enhancing flavour. Spices were rare and precious products, used for medicine, perfume, incense and it was so lucrative and profitable pushed explorers to seek new trade routes to the Spice Island.

Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail through the Indian Ocean to Asia, and Ferdinand Magellan and Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe. Ferdinand Magellan proved for certain the world was round when his crew made the first trip around the world.

In 1577, Sir Francis Drake was secretly commissioned by Elizabeth I to set off on voyage against the Spanish colonies on the American Pacific coast. To reach the Pacific, Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

After watching some videos and reading different sources, I came to realise that there are many different focuses with overlapping narratives that can make certain information pretty confusing or biased.

Week 2: Art from West Africa

This video gave a nice introduction to Benin in a very engaging manner. It brought us through the civilisation and what’s left today!  As for the issue of whether the Benin Bronzes should be returned to Benin is debatable, some may argue that Benin may not have the technology or resources to maintain the Benin Bronzes but I do believe if the Benin government have the intention of recovering the Benin  Bronzes, they will definitely find a solution to manage and store these precious artefacts!

Both the Benin Bronzes and Qin Terracotta Warriors are created using lost wax bronze casting method and many replicas of Qin Terracotta Warriors can be seen in many different countries today. Lost wax casting provides exact shapes which leads to lower material cost and certain processes can be “templated”. I got a random thought, perhaps a replica of Benin Bronze can be reproduced just like the Terracotta Warriors, so it can be circulated for display into different countries.

If lost wax bronze casting is not available, some museums may look into the use of 3D scanning and printing to showcase the various artefacts. (Some will question the authenticity but I believe it will definitely be better than showing pictures of Benin Bronzes on flat panels)


Week 1: “Why you don’t like Art History!”

The video got me thinking that the information that was presented in the different Art History classes may be flawed in some ways, as there are many ways to look at a particular artefact or subject.

Every module would have a professor that teaches differently and certain topics may not be covered properly. One reason why I hate Art History because it involves a lot of memorisation and critical analysis, which can be pretty challenging to digest so much information within one semester. I do dread sitting in cold and dark lecture room going through slides after slides! However, some things I learnt from the Art History classes became useful whenever I visit a place of worship/museum/monument, the knowledge I gained from the Art History class enriches my visit.

In the past, I can only appreciate certain artefacts in terms of aesthetic value but now I do learn to question certain symbols or icon whenever I spot something familiar.