SOAS University of London

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

Arts of SouthEast Asia

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1
Southeast Asia is typically described in introductory texts as a ‘crossroads.’ Taking a step beyond the survey, this module will explore how art reflects, comprises or challenges this concept. Examining local and global currents of production, trade, and expansion, the module provides students with an understanding of Southeast Asian pasts and major religious traditions through the visual cultures of the region. A principal focus will be the selective mediation of Sinitic, Islamic, and regional Hindu-Buddhist influences to articulate local systems of representation, value, and power. Topics include Hindu-Buddhist sculpture and architecture from Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia, illuminated manuscripts from the Malay world, sacred offerings from Bali, and ceramics from Vietnam. By following both a chronological and thematic approach, this module enables students to apprehend the vitality of forms in the arts of Southeast Asia, and their crucial role in defining aesthetics, cultural belonging, political prestige, and intercultural exchange.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Gain a broad knowledge of key periods and themes in the art history of Southeast Asia
  • Develop visual literacy across multiple mediums, including architecture, sculpture, painting, metalwork and ceramics
  • Sustain critical analyses and interpretations based on knowledge of cultural, political, religious, and economic contexts
  • Situate the arts of Southeast Asia in relation to Asia and the Middle East
  • Develop skills in research, spoken and written expression transferable across academic and industry fields


  • One two hour Lecture

Method of assessment

  • One 2 000 words essay (worth 30%)
  • One two hour exam (worth 60%)
  • One oral presentation (worth 10%)

Suggested reading

  • Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. Mythology and the Tolerance of the Javanese. 2nd ed. Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Southeast Asia Program, 1996.
  • Boisselier, Jean. Thai Painting, NYC: Kodansha, 1976.
  • Geertz, Clifford. Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali. Princeton UP, 1980.
  • Guy, John and Rosemary Scott, eds. South East Asia & China: art, interaction & commerce. University of London, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1995.
  • Higham, Charles. The Archaeology of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press, 1989
  • Holt, Claire. Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change. Cornell University Press, 1967.
  • Mrázek, Jan, and Morgan Pitelka, eds. What’s the Use of Art: Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
  • Schober, Juliane, ed. Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia. University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.
  • Stevenson, John, ed. Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition. Chicago: Art Media Resources, 1997.
  • Taylor, Nora A., ed. Studies in Southeast Asian Art: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. O’Connor. Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2000.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules