Reflection – Weekly Presentation

Researching about ivories in the Philippines has been eye-opening. Art in the Philippines seemed like a topic that was avoided in SEA art history – perhaps because it did not fit into the syllabus – but it did seem strange to leave out the Philippines when talking about South East Asia.

Through this presentation, I set out for myself to learn how art developed in that country through visual and contextual analysis. A big debate was about whether their religious ivory art has strong influences from its own country or was the Philippines merely a mass producer of these objects. From my research, it was hard to pinpoint styles or techniques that could be linked between traditional Filipino art and the ivories. That’s a debate not meant for a short reflection.

I really enjoyed pondering over these thoughts. Someone from the class claims that the Santos are Filipino art,  but the style and techniques come from elsewhere. Rather, from what was said, the Filipinos tend to favor the Santos more than other cultures, so perhaps that is what gives them a sense of ownership over the Santos.

The Philippines has a long history of colonialism, rebellions, and wars. It would be interesting to learn more about what types of art came out of that period – maybe poems?

Reflection – FINAL PROJECT

I have learned a lot more about blue-and-white wares, and have become more aware of the way museums are run, over the course of this project. First of all, thinking about how museums artifacts can be arranged gave me insight into how artifacts don’t really stand alone – artifacts usually have some form of connection to each other, either across time or through cultural interactions. Because this was a gradual realization, it was especially difficult to decide on our four objects and how they might be related. What if we had chosen some objects that just could not be related to each other? We decided to play it safe by choosing 4 blue-and-white wares because they were already similar in style.

It got challenging when we were trying to figure out what was expected of us. At first, I thought that we were going to create a room with the four artifacts we had chosen but then we were told to relate our objects to the blue-and-white room at the ACM. It was a challenge because the objects we had chosen were 4 unique blue-and-white wares and we wanted to focus on their uniqueness from the rest. That was my mistake because then it belittles the other blue-and-white wares in the exhibit (again, I thought that we only had to worry about our 4 objects). The blue-and-white wares in the ACM all have a story to tell and it would be foolish to attempt that through 4 very different blue-and-white wares. Through our observations, we realized that our objects all had influences from different parts of the world, which got us thinking about how cultures mixed around in the past. It just so happened that secondary school students have a topic on globalization in their syllabus of Social Studies, which gave us a target audience to set on.

From there we faced our 2nd challenge – engaging secondary school students. As much as it is a stereotype, most secondary school students would have no interest in museums if not for being a field trip location. What we hoped to achieve was to ‘wow’ them with stunning illustrations and visuals with minimal text-based information to distance ourselves from school textbooks.

The 3rd challenge was mainly for me. I’m bad with design. I would not trust myself with it. Furthermore, I did not have the software to do it so I had to use the school computers when there were no ongoing classes. It was an entirely tedious process for me. Still, eventually, it was completed. I appreciate what museums do with their brochures more now, especially the somewhat recent Angkor Wat/Cambodia exhibit’s booklet. There were many entertaining and interactive activities that must have taken a lot of talent and hard work.

Week 10: Contextual analysis

Attached is the contextual analysis for the 9th CE Tang blue-and-white stoneware.


Contextual Analysis

This blue-and-white ware was made in China, probably Gongxian kilns, ca 830s
Stoneware, diameter 23 cm

9th Century Potters in both China and West Asia contributed to the ninth-century creation of the earliest known blue-and-white ceramics. It is a combination of China’s superior ceramics technology with the unique cobalt blue glaze of Iran.

Initially, Near Eastern traders of China shipped white stonewares and porcelain to West Asia where they attempted to copy them. They attempted to cover their earthenwares with a white tin glaze but did not achieve the same quality as the original. However, it is through this that they began decorating their new white wares with their cobalt blue glaze. Again, the means by which they were applying the blue glaze resulted in a less than stellar final product.

The earliest known blue-and-white stonewares were created as a result of the interaction between China and West Asia in the 9th century. The blue-and-white ceramics of the Belitung Shipwreck were painted with a blue glaze. The practice of painting with cobalt blue seems to have started with Basran potters. Despite being made in China, they used cobalt blue glaze that had likely been mined in Iran, which shows the level of globalisation already happening during the 9th century.

The Gongxian potters painted a lozenge pattern with flowers in the centre of it. This design appears on a variety of objects bound for the Abbasid, where the design originally developed. The lozenge motif is a design favoured in the Middle East, which again, shows the connection between China and the Middle East. It also possibly means that the Chinese were trying to create these plates for the Middle Eastern market which was the Abbasid Empire that includes modern-day Iran, Iraq, and the surrounding regions.

The blue-and-white dishes discovered with the ship are the first and earliest complete Chinese blue-and-white ceramics known to exist to date. This gives us insight into the birth of blue-and-white Chinese ceramics and its subsequent popularity among in the world – inspiring others to try to copy and eventually succeeding in achieving a similar quality.

While the blue-and-white stonewares of Gongxian kilns have been claimed to be the earliest examples of the design, it is only in the Jingdezhen kilns where blue-and-white porcelains really took off which then inspired the imitations and rush to create others of similar quality.


“Blue-and-White Dish.” Asian Civilisations Museum. Accessed November 1, 2018.

Krahl, Regina. “Tang Blue-and-White.” In Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures And Monsoon Winds. Edited by Regina Krahl, John Guy, J. Keith Wilson, and Julian Raby. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Singapore: National Heritage Board, Singapore Tourism Board, 2011.)

“The Cargo: Blue-and-White Ceramics from the Gongxian Kilns.” Asia Society. Accessed November 1, 2018.

Zhu, Feng and Jie Shao. “The Origin Of Blue-And-White And The Birth Of
Symbols.” Asian Social Science 5, no. 5 (2009): 77-81. Accessed April 1,


Week Nine – Free Writing

This is a blue-and-white stoneware plate from China, found on the Tang Shipwreck so it would have likely been made around the 9th century. It is one of only three blue-and-white wares recovered. It is a regular sized plate

The first thing that catches my eye is the lozenge and foliage motifs in blue. The foliage motif curls around and expands outward from the lozenge motif. The strokes are controlled, which suggests that great precision and effort was placed to design this plate.

The lozenge motif holds particular significance to Islamic culture. From this, along with the knowledge of where the ship was headed, we can deduce that China’s kilns produced this blue-and-white ware for export to the Middle East who were, at that time, the Abbasid Empire.

Within the lozenge is a quatrefoil motif, which very closely resembles a flower. Its rim also has four sprig details, which are further apart from the details in the centre of the plate. The design of the plate is simple – It looks like an everyday plate, with the exception of the four subtle bumps on its rim. It seems to give off the effect that the plate is turning – kind of like a windmill. The space between the sprigs and the foliage could be suggesting movement from the element of wind blowing up the sprigs from the foliage. It makes the design feel dynamic despite the simplicity of its strokes and style.

The Chinese blue-and-white ware was a luxury good because no one else could produce that level of radiance in their stoneware. Looking at how deeply blue the dye is, it seems like an expensive, high-quality dye. From the image, we can see how the plate is giving off a shine from the museum lights. This suggests that a higher firing temperature was used that radiance, which probably means that it was a luxury good. From this, it can be said that the plate was for royalty or someone wealthy, as was probably the case for most Chinese blue-and-white wares.

Despite how unassuming this blue-and-white plate looks, when it is analysed deeper it reveals the craftsmanship that went into its creation. It reveals that this simple looking plate was probably highly sought after because of its craftsmanship. It reveals a richness in cultural exchange between China and the Middle East through trade.

Week 7 Response

What was your favorite object that you saw during our visit?

I was captivated by this blue porcelain jar from China. The contrast of the bright gilded bronze mounts and the deep blue glaze- the subtle Eastern dragon on the handles and the bombastic Western dragon attached to an extravagant handle with floral motifs that seem to be in dynamic movement. What amazed me even more were the subtle details within the blue glaze – the wonderful landscapes reminiscent of Guo Xi’s own creations. This beautiful blend of East meets West in motifs as well as styles highlights the impact of trade in bringing cultures together.

Week 5 Response

The Current/s We Call Home – Arus Berlabuh Kita (2018)
by Kabul (Indonesia) and Mintio (Singapore)

Image result for Arus Berlabuh Kita

Not because of laziness but because of lack of knowledge in the contemporary arts, I found this artwork in the Asian Civilisations Museum. The work is of sails with images of children from Singapore and Indonesia on them; made of wood and bark fibre from banana trees which are common to both countries.

It is inspired by the song Dayung Sampan, which was a popular folk song in both Singapore and Indonesia.

Personally, I feel that this engagement with the premodern in terms of materials and motifs evokes a sense of simplicity and historical richness in our cultural interactions of the past. It reminds me of trade – of resources, luxury goods, innovation, and religion. The images of children evoke a sense of innocence that came along with the interactions; one with no discrimination or prejudice. Migrant workers, to my knowledge, in Singapore have had a bad reputation for stealing jobs and opportunities and perhaps this work is trying to enlighten the viewers; to bring us back to our roots; to learn the positive examples of our past.

Week 3 Response

This week, we watched a video on Vasco da Gama by PBS Education, which was part of their series called Explorers: Age of Encounter. Apart from Zheng He and the Arab navigator in Malindi, who else is missing from these Eurocentric narratives? Hint: Watch the video on Magellan!

Attempting to steer clear from the eurocentric explorer, it was challenging to find information on non-European explorers of that time period. Watching the Magellan video did not prove useful in helping me identify these non-European explorers. Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who could not get his expedition funded so he took his talents to Spain where their desire for an alternate route to Malukas without having to go through areas controlled by the Portuguese. However, it does not talk about the non-European explorers of the time.

Navigating through the PBS website, I happened upon an explorer by the name of Ibn Battuta of Tangier. He was a Muslim Moroccan explorer who traveled to parts of Africa, Asia, and Spain from 1325 to 1354.

While he did not discover unknown lands. He is known as the “traveler of Islam”; having traveled 75,000 miles and interacted with least 60 rulers across the areas he visited.

He visited almost every Muslim country and a number of non-Muslim ones.

I found it frustrating at how challenging it was to find information on non-European explorers- at how when I search for explorer during the Age of Encounter, I get results for the top 10 European Explorers or the most important explorers, all of which were European. It paints a complex story about history is told differently from different perspectives and personally I feel that, much like history, art is not an exception to this.

Week 2 Reflection

The question of whether the bronzes should be returned to Benin is a matter of ideal morality and practicality. Let us ignore where money has travelled as a result of these bronzes being moved. On one hand, these spoils of war should be returned to their country because they are items of heritage and culture, and the people of Benin deserve to grow up around items belonging to their culture and past. On the other hand, Benin does not have the resources necessary to manage these artifacts as well as the other countries do.

An impractical solution would be for the countries holding these bronzes to build facilities to hold and showcase these bronzes in their country of origin, as well as to provide and teach the skills needed to maintain these artifacts. Of course, no country would approve of this because there would be nothing to be visibly gained from this action. It does, however, solve the problems of not being in their country of origin and the maintenance of these artifacts.

Week 1 Reflection

What are your thoughts on this video on art history?

While it does address the reasons why we might not like art history, it does not find solutions for these reasons. We still sit in dark rooms listening to the professor speak. We still remember names and dates.

There are practical solutions to these problems, which is to have an engaging professor or to make remembering names and dates less of a chore. This one could be achieved by giving students the autonomy to connect the timelines of different artworks and seeing how they relate to each other. In this, the speaker has mentioned how there is a non-linear timeline to art and there is no one “hero” of this journey. Instead, there are many different people from all over the world, interacting with each other and it would be more enriching to see the similarities and differences to different artworks not just across the world, but also through time.