Archive for the 'Asian Tribes/Cultures/Countries' Category

Object: Manuscript Box

E/1955/18/252
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited

Jwajalapa.com
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.  http://www.jwajalapa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=61

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from http://www.durga-puja.org/mythology.html

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Porcelain Dish

E/1967/26/8
Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.
http://www.asiasocietymuseum.org/region_object.aspRegionID=4&CountryID=12&ChapterID=32&ObjectID=409

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”
http://ringlingdocents.org/asian/art/porcelain.htm

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,
2008. http://koh-antique.com/history/falang.htm

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.
http://www.steincollectors.org/PSS/Porcelain/PORCELN.HTM

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000.
http://gotheborg.com/marks/index- china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000. http://gotheborg.com/qa/fakes.shtml

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.
http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/Exhibit/Archive/porcelainstories/glossary.htm.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Korean Jewelry Box

E/65/9/10
Jewelry Box
Seoul , South Korea
Unknown Date
Wood, Lacquer, Mother of Pearl, metal

This jewelry box was made using the traditional Korean process of creating shell-inlayed lacquerware. Lacquerware emerged as a popular art form in Korea during the Josean dynasty (1392-1910). The production of lacquerware is a lengthy process, requiring great care and dedication. First, the wood used as the core of the piece is carefully selected and allowed to dry for many years to ensure that it will never warp.

The lacquer coating is made from the sap of the local Rhus vernicifera tree. This tree has poisonous properties similar to those of Poison Oak in the United States. Artisans build immunity to the plant by exposing themselves gradually over an extended period of time. Each tree produces about half a cup of sap each season. After the sap is drawn from a tree, it cannot be taken from the same tree again for a few years. Historically, the collection of sap from the Rhus vernicifera tree was strictly regulated by the Korean government. As a result, lacquerware was only available to the elite class of society. Eventually, knowledge of the technique used to create lacquerware spread and it became more accessible to other classes.

The second step of the process requires the application of more than 20 thin layers of lacquer to create each piece. Each layer of lacquer must be allowed to dry and then polished before the application of the next layer to ensure that there are no imperfections. Once it has hardened, the lacquer is extremely durable being resistant to water, heat, and even mild acid.

The inlayed details are added last, often using mother of pearl shells to create a decorative design. The shiny surface of mother of pearl is created by a mollusk living inside the shell. Mother of pearl is also a local resource and can be found all along the coasts of Korea.

Korean culture is reflected in the design itself. The bird depicted on the jewelry box is a phoenix, one of the Four Guardians of Korea. As the guardian of the south, the phoenix represents elegance, virtue, morality, and a prosperous future. Korean lacquerware has been around for many centuries embodying these characteristics, and creating a strong form of art that will continue for many more years to come.

Take a look at this interesting video on making similar kinds of lacquerware:

Work Cited

Beautiful Lacquer Ware Created by Artisans. YouTube. YouTube, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2nacdN5X3M>

Department of Asian Art. “Lacquerware of East Asia”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/elac/hd_elac.htm (October 2004)

Lee, Soyoung. “Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400–1600″. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kore/hd_kore.htm (September 2010)

Bone, Flesh, Skin: The Making of Japanese Lacquer (Part 1 of 2). Prod. Asian Art Museum. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkgCW-z-31w>.

Barkley, Stokes F.A. “Rhus Verniciflua.” Plants for a Future. PFAF, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. <http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Rhus+verniciflua>.

“Pinctada Margaritifera.” Pinctada Margaritifera. CIESM, Dec. 2003. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ciesm.org/atlas/Pinctadamargaritifera.html>.

Peabody Essex Museum. “A Teacher’s Source Book for Korean Art and Culture.” Korean Art and Culture (n.d.): 1-33. Peabody Essex Museum. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <http://www.pem.org/aux/pdf/learn/asia_curriculum/korea-tsb.pdf>.

[Lauren Fountain]

Object: Samurai Face Mask

E/1949/2/2
Samurai Face Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Black steel, Corded thread, Red Lacquer

This face mask of black steel, with grotesque features and chin protectors, would have been attached to the helmet of a Samurai by the blue cord connected to the face mask. The Samurai were the warrior scholars of Feudal Japan, who, for 700 years, were part of the armies that roamed across the land at their commanders’ lead. When not in battle they led quiet, simple lives of training and reflection, knowing one day they may die in battle. Their possible shorter life did not stop them from facing every day with courage.

They began their rise to power in the 12th century, as the strong central government of Japan, ruled by the emperor, became corrupted and weakened. In the year 1185, a military leader named, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99), forced the emperor to give him the title of Shogun (similar to a King) , which means barbarian conquering supreme general. The Shogun would become leader of the country, while the emperor was relegated to a strictly ceremonial position. The Shogun then selected advisors to serve as daimyo (like a Lord of governor), who ruled over large tracts of land. As can be expected, ruling over large amounts of land was difficult and protecting the land from bandits, even more so. To deal with the protection, the daimyo hired independent warriors who would become the samurai, which when translated means one who serves.

The samurai conducted themselves in a dignified manner in public; not drinking uncontrollably and treating women with respect. This was all a part of their bushido code (a code of ethics) that not only stressed respect to oneself and others, but also stressed education, physical and mental strength, as well as the various arts. Through this dignified public manner, samurai became respected by the public and continued to see their status rise as a warrior class. Only samurai were allowed to carry weapons in public and to disrespect them could mean death.

The weapons of a samurai were not only tools for combat, but were also seen as an extension of his very soul. The samurai treated these weapons with high regard and would not draw his weapons outside of war, for to do so meant someone would die. Many samurai believed that a weapon once unsheathed could not be re-sheathed until it had seen combat. As such, it was extremely disrespectful to draw a weapon for no purpose. The samurai sword was his most important weapon, which, according to tradition and belief, contained the samurai’s spirit. The armor the samurai wore was designed to turn aside the impact of arrows, which were the samurai’s biggest threat on the battlefield. Dying by the sword of another samurai was considered a noble death, but death by an arrow, which could come from any direction, did not have this distinction.

The facemask of the samurai called a mengu often had grotesque features including teeth and mustaches, in an attempt to intimidate the enemy. The inside, much like the mask in the collection, is lacquered red to reflect the warriors face and aid in the intimidation factor. While the facemask also had the purpose of offering physical protection to the face, its most important feature was the fact it provided a convenient place to tie off and hook the helmet cords, keeping it in place.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Samurai armor:

Sources:

Hanel, Rachael

2008  Samurai: Fearsome Fighters. Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Education.

Sinclaire, Clive

2004  Samurai: The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior. Guilford, Connecticut: Salamander Books.

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Fencing Mask

E/1949/2/7
Fencing Mask
Japan
1650-1700
Painted metal, Cotton, Leather

This mask is an example of a typical Japanese fencing mask. It is made of a blue cotton head piece that has been padded to help the wearer shrug off blows from a bamboo sword. The face of the mask is trimmed in leather to provide stability. The red painted metal bars serve the dual function of protecting the face and as a marker to the opponent in the match; indicating a no strike zone.

The mask is the traditional mask worn in the Japanese sport of Kendo. The literal translation of Kendo is “Way of the Sword.” It was originally a way for Japanese warriors to train for combat without having to worry about severe injury, though one can still leave a bruise. Not only was the warrior protected from severe injury, but a priceless sword handed down through generations was also carefully guarded. Kendo is the more modern ritualized version of Japanese fencing, though it is not a solitary sport in Japan when it comes to the sword arts, which are taught to people of all ages. Two other Japanese sword arts include;  Bujutsu, which is an attempt to train individuals in traditional Japanese military skills and Iaido, which focuses on the technique and esthetic of drawing the sword. It is important to note Kendo is not Bushido, which is the way of the samurai. Kendo may have developed out of this tradition, but it has rules associated with it that combat did not.

Kendo is not just a physical sport, but also demands great mental work. When practiced properly Kendo becomes a Do; this is a path or way that can lead an individual to self-cultivation. This in turn means Kendo can lead a person to learning about him or herself, both physically and mentally.

Figure 3      Diagram of Kendo Uniform

Figure 3 Diagram of Kendo Uniform

One of the key components of Kendo is the uniform that is worn by all who practice it while in the Dojo, the hall where Kendo is practiced.  The uniform consists of a pleated split skirt called a bakam, and a heavy cotton top called a keikogi. By wearing this uniform, the students of Kendo link their modern training with the ancient tradition of Japanese martial arts. The uniform is usually dark blue or black in color which is associated with the samurai’s traditional role as a representative of social order. What this means is that samurai were a respected social class in Feudal Japan and as such were seen as a policing force just by being present and inspiring others to live by their example. Worn over the general uniform is the armor each student and master will wear to further protect themselves in bouts. The first piece of armor is the tare, which is tied around the waist as a hip protector. Next the do is put on to serve as the chest protector. The student then moves to protect the head with the hachimaki, a towel like cloth, which is also used to keep sweat out of the eyes. The second to last piece is the men, which is the face mask, an example of which is housed in the Ethnology Collection. The last piece is the kote, which are arm guards as well as hand guards.

Take a look at this video to learn more about Kendo:

Sources:

Donohue, John J.

1999  Complete Kendo. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

Sasamori, Junzo and Warner, Gordon

1964  This is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing. Boston: Charles E. Tuttle, Inc.

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Brass Emblem

E/1955/18/251
Brass Emblem
Nepalese
Asia: Nepal
Unknown Age
Material: Brass

This is a brass religious emblem from Nepal. It is 17.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches in diameter. We do not know where specifically this object comes from, but we do know it represents the Tower of Life, a holy emblem in Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. This symbol is often used to mark temple entrances. Each tier of the emblem represents a plane of human consciousness and existence that reaches upward towards heaven.

The Indus Valley region was home to the early Vedic religions, which focused on ritual and social obligation and included a pantheon of deities. Reincarnation, or rebirth, and karma were ideas introduced very early in this belief system in religious texts such as the Vedas, Brahamanas and the Upanishads. These are all influential teachings in Hinduism, which developed from these early Vedic beliefs. Hinduism today believes in one Supreme Being that manifests itself in many forms, primarily Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, forming the Hindu trinity.

Siddhartha Guatama, a Hindu man born in Nepal, supported certain aspects of his native religion, such as karma – the notion of moral cause and effect, based on behavior.  However, he rejected other facets of this theology, such as the strict caste system deeply embedded in Hindu societies, and the importance of rituals. Instead, he encouraged people to disassociate themselves from earthly pleasures, and focus instead on attaining personal enlightenment, or Nirvana, by eliminating all desire. After reaching enlightenment, Guatama became known as Buddha, and his teachings became the backbone of the Buddhist belief system that then swept through                                                                          East Asia and then around the world.

As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered in Nepal, producing a powerful artistic and architectural fusion. Buildings reflect outstanding craftsmanship in their intricate ornamentation in brick, stone, timber and bronze that are some of the most highly developed in the world.

Take a look at this PBS Documentary to learn more about the development and spread of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Mosaic Floor Panel

C/1949/8/1
Mosaic floor panel
Seleucid Empire
Antioch, Syria (modern Turkey)
Date: 240 – 63 BC
Materials: Stone tiles and concrete

This is a section of mosaic floor panel from the House of the Evil Eye in the ancient capital of Antioch, Syria (present-day Turkey). The mosaic section is approximately 40” high by 38” wide. It shows a series of geometric designs made from hundreds of small blue, white, and red stone chips (called tesserae) set in cement.

The Seleucid Kingdom or Empire at its greatest stretched from Thrace (Greece) to the border of India. It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator, who rose in power and influence under Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army. He became the Governor of Babylon in 321 BC before grabbing the reigns of the kingdom, taking control, and embarking on his ambitious expansion efforts. Antioch was one of the most important cities, both politically and culturally, in the Seleucid Kingdom. The wealthy in Antioch projected their economic and cultural influence by building lavish homes in the Greek (Hellenistic) style. This often involved the inclusion of intricate and beautiful mosaics on the floors.

The House of the Evil Eye is named for a mosaic found on the interior (image shown below) that is currently at the Antakya Archaeology Museum in the Hatay Province of Turkey. The mosaic is apotropaic, meaning it was designed to warn off evil, as can be seen in an attack on the “Evil Eye.” This private residence, where a wealthy family would have resided, was occupied several times over the span of many years. It was, in fact, reoccupied after the fifth century AD. The mosaic from the Classics Collection came from the floor of this home.

Much of the city of Antioch was excavated by a team of archaeologists from Princeton University in the late 1930’s. Their findings (including further information on similar mosaics) were published by Doro Levi in Antioch Mosaic Pavements (Princeton, 1947).

This mosaic panel is similar to another mosaic held by the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Take a look at this great video to learn about the history of Hellenism and how it led to the creation of some truly incredible objects:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?

Answer: A TREASURE CHEST!

This is a brass treasure chest (or manuscript chest) from the Ethnology collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It was collected in the early 20th Century and is inlaid with stones and decorated with gold filagree. Nepal, a country bordering both China and India, has a diverse and fascinating history defined in large part by their location in the Himalayas and their position as a cross-roads between China and India. A chest like this would have been used to hold small treasures and important manuscripts by wealthy nobles or perhaps members of the ruling family.

To see a timeline of Nepal’s complex history, take a look at this link.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Bronze Head

E/1955/18/138
Bronze Head
Dynastic China
Location: Asia, China
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

We can learn a great deal by looking at the details of objects to uncover the mystery of what they mean. This Chinese statue is an excellent example. It is a large 32-inch tall hollow cast bronze head of a woman. By looking closely at the head, we can see she has an elaborate hairstyle with an ornate headpiece. The headpiece has a miniature figure of Buddha in front, over her forehead. Her eyes are closed, as if asleep, and she has a slight smile on her lips. There is no evidence that there was ever a body attached to this head. So what are we to make of this unusual object?

 

First, we look at how it was made. The process of bronze casting is very old, beginning in China around 1600 BC, in what was known as the Shang Dynasty. Bronze is an alloy, or combination, of copper and tin and forms a very durable metal. While we do not know how old this statue is, it certainly developed out of this long-standing bronze working tradition.

With her serene facial expression, this head may represent the figure of Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin) or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness, and love in the Buddhist faith. This Chinese Buddhist goddess is said to be based on a real woman. According to one legend, Kuan Yin’s father murdered her and she went down to the underworld. When she got there, she recited words from the Buddhist holy books, preventing the god of the underworld from torturing the souls of the dead. He was not pleased, so he sent Kuan Yin back to be alive once more. After returning to the world of the living, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas and teachings, learning from the Buddha. As a result of her dedication and her compassionate nature, the Buddha made her immortal, and she became the goddess of mercy and compassion.

In paintings, Kuan Yin is often depicted as wearing white robes and sitting on a lotus flower, which also symbolizes peace. Sometimes she is even shown with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, so that she can more effectively bestow her mercy on the world. Stories about Kuan Yin seem to have begun with stories about a male Indian boddhisatva (holy person) called Avlokitesvara. By the 1st Century AD in China, Kuan Yin not only changed names, she also changed genders! She is known my many different name all across East Asia, and a wide range of different stories are told about her.

If you want to see this bronze statue for yourself, come by the Sam Noble Museum! It is currently on exhibit in our Orientation Gallery, the first gallery to the right after you enter the main part of the museum!

Take a look at this great video by the San Diego Museum of Art on the history of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?

drum photo quiz

Answer: A DRUM!

This is a wooden drum from Myanmar from the Ethnology collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a southeast Asian state bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos, and Bangladesh. A drum like this is suspended by a cord around the neck and is used in a variety of traditional and modern dances.

Take a look at the following video to learn a little more about Myanmar drums:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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