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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Island Arts of South East Asia

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

The course covers aspects of ceremony, textiles, domestic architecture, jewellery and ancestral woodcarving in Bali and the islands of Indonesia. The focus is on the localised variations, the diversity of material culture and the importance of ephemeral offerings. The processes of production and offering are also emphasised, seeking to understand meanings and values not always apparent in their formal properties.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Aims of the Course - on successful completion of the course, you will be able to:
  • Develop an understanding of some of the methods, practice and key issues in the Island arts and spaces of Southeast Asia.
  • Provide a supportive context for a critical appraisal of the various approaches and issues developed within this profile of the material culture of Island Southeast Asia.
  • Develop a range of skills relevant to an understanding of the arts of insular Southeast and their present role within the region.
  • Develop your personal and professional interests through participation in the course.
  • Appreciate the variety of cultural values and explore their implications for equality issues such as class, ‘race’, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.
Outcomes - On successful completion of the course, you will be able to:
  • To have gained knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of the various forms of Island Southeast Asian arts provided within this course.
  • To be able to identify and compare different approaches to material culture of islands of Southeast Asia.
  • To be able to assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course.
  • To have been introduced to a range of skills and disciplinary approaches used within the study of the island arts of Southeast Asia.

Scope and syllabus

Scope of course

This course is designed to introduce you to some of the central themes in the arts of Island Southeast Asia. Over the space of a term, it aims to provide a concentrated introduction to ways ritual arts of the Indonesian archipelago. In looking at the different religious influences that have affected the widespread cultures of insular Southeast Asia, the course seeks to develop a critical expertise and visual literacy able to recognise both the individuality and commonalities of these cultures.

Selected aspects of space and place, offering, and exchange are discussed to provide a broad and comparative knowledge of social and ritual norms. It thus intends to develop critical awareness of the making and sustaining of cultural values, relevant to Southeast Asian and globally. This will provide you with exposure to a range of views, many not agreeing with one another. You will not end up with a single perception of Island arts, but a familiarity with some of the main issues and arguments about their changing meanings in local and international frameworks.

Course design

This course is an introduction to the arts of Island Southeast Asia and in the disciplines commonly employed in its interpretation. Its aims are to provide an overview of the various approaches that are available, while implementing and consolidating a range of transferable skills and competences necessary for students to realise the assessed criteria of the coursework and exam requirements. It also provides grounding in transferable skills for other and subsequent courses.

Method of assessment

Assessment is based on 20% written work, 10% on online assignments and/or a presentation, and 70% on an exam. Written assessment is based on one piece of written work 2000-2500 words in length; details for online assignments/presentation will be given out in class.

Suggested reading

  • Gittinger M, Splendid Symbols, Textiles and Tradition in Indonesia. (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1990)
  • Hitchcock M & Norris L Bali, the imaginary museum (Singapore: Oxford, 1995)
  • Eiseman, Fred. Bali: sekala and niskala. Vol.1, Essays on religion, ritual, and art (Hong Kong : Periplus1990)
  • Ramseyer,U. The Art and Culture of Bali. (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1977; Basel : Museum der Kulturen Basel, 2002)
  • Waterson, R. The Living House. (Singapore ; Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press,1990)