Asian Art History at the Asia Research Institute

Dr Moore’s presentation “Public Art and the Shwedagon in the 19-20th century” might be of interest to readers of this blog. The roundtable on Asian Art History is happening TOMORROW (29 September 2009) at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. Details and registration here.

Asian Art History Roundtable
Public Art and the Shwedagon in the 19-20th century (Dr Elizabeth Moore)
Date: Tuesday, 29 Sep 2009
Time: 4 – 5.30pm
Venue: ARI Seminar Room, Tower Block Level 10, National University of Singapore @ BTC

The visuality of Myanmar is distinct from the rest of mainland Southeast Asia for the Shwedagon and countless other stupas create public spaces for meditation, teaching, artistic patronage and socialization. As three-dimensional religious forms, the pagoda compounds (parawun) are a vital part of the landscape. The presentation examines the Shwedagon parawun in two contexts: the colonial occupation of 1853 and the construction of the Karaweik Palace on the Kandawgyi or ‘great royal lake’ of the Shwedagon in 1973. The 1853 occupation brought British control of the sacred pagoda traditionally dating to the time of the Buddha Gotama, with pilgrims admitted only on festival days. The Karaweik Palace was designed by the leading sculptor of the time, built by the Ministry of Construction and inaugurated on October 31, 1973. Facing to the Shwedagon, the Karaweik Palace is a pair of golden birds modeled on a mythical bird of the celestial realms known for its beautiful song. The birds, 82 metres (270 feet) long, weigh some 20,000 tons. They rest on pontoons, created to provide a showcase of the ’10 traditional arts’ of Myanmar and a public space for all the people.

Aerial views of the Shwedagon and the Kandawgyi from the World War II Williams-Hunt Collection are also included in the presentation, part of a research project on the role of landscape in the making and sustaining of cultural identity in times of transition. This focuses on two periods of change: (1)from the Yunnan-oriented Bronze-iron Age culture (circa 600 BCE-300 CE) to the brick walls and seasonal lakes of the early Buddhist period (circa 200-800 CE), and (2) the incorporation of European techniques within pagoda arts and the formation of new donor networks following 1885 to the ongoing patronage of the traditional arts since Independence.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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