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Art of Island Southeast Asia

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The art of Island Southeast Asia is a growing area of study. Inaccurately referred to in the early literature as the Malay Archipelago or Indonesia, the largest areas make up the present-day nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The insular Southeast Asian region is one of the five standard parts of Oceania, the other four being Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Australia. This course surveys the decorative traditions of the island realms of Southeast Asia with special reference to body ornamentation, clothing, and architecture. Regional affinities transcending present-day political boundaries are traced through shared forms and converging meanings. Of particular interest are five ubiquitous images: the penannular, the triangular tumpal, the double-horned water buffalo (kerbau), the serpent-dragon (naga), and the seated human figure. These motifs are explored in their various manifestations in jewelry, textiles, ritual implements, and architecture. A critical assessment of the existing literature encompasses, but is not limited to, papers presented in Indonesian Textiles: Irene Emery Roundtable on Museum Textiles 1979 Proceedings, Roxanna Waterson’s The Living House: An Anthropology of Architecture in Southeast Asia (1990), and Gottfried Semper’s Die vier Elemente der Baukunst (studied in the English translation of the 1851 original, Four Elements of Architecture, translated by H.F. Mallgrave, 1968). Visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are arranged. The course culminates in a collaborative faculty-student exhibition in the Focus Gallery. 3 credits.