Roxanna Brown and the art fraud mystery

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What kind of royal screw-up led to Roxanna Brown’s death? Details of the ill-fated detention of the esteemed Dr Brown is recounted in the Seattle Times, with disturbing and sad revelations over how she was denied medical care and attention which led to her untimely and unnecessary death. (Thanks to Black Rose Press for the link)

Was Roxanna Brown an Art-World Fraud?
Seattle Times, 29 October 2008
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Remembering Roxanna Brown

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The UCLA International Institute posts a memorial for Roxanna Brown, the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum who died in prison last week under dubious circumstances.

Roxanna Brown, UCLA International

In Memoriam – Roxanna Maude Brown
UCLA International Institute, 20 May 2008

It is with deepest sadness that we mourn the untimely death on May 14, 2008 of UCLA Art History alumna Dr. Roxanna M. Brown, 62, world-renowned expert on SEA ceramics, curator of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University and editor of their excellent newsletter. She died in Seattle reportedly of an infection brought on by a perforated ulcer while in federal custody on a very dubious indictment. She had gone to Seattle to present a paper on SEA ceramics at a conference co-sponsored by UCLA and the University of Washington.

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Reactions to museum director's death


This story from the Bangkok Post repeats most of the details already released before, but also includes some comments from Roxanna Brown’s colleagues. There’s a general feeling of shock, as well as dismay that there wasn’t an opportunity for the truth to emerge.

Prison death
Bangkok Post, 16 May 2008
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Bangkok University denies involvement in antiquities smuggling

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More news on Roxanna Brown’s arrest. Bangkok University, which is home to the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum of which Brown is the director, denies any involvement in the antiques smuggling. At the same time, they have also said that they were never given any cause to suspect anything shady.

University art historian faces fraud charges
Bangkok Post, 14 May 2008
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Museum director indicted looted antiquities scandal

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This news is going to raise some eyebrows. Roxanna Brown, the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum in Thailand and a noted authority on Southeast Asian ceramics has been indicted in the recent case of looted artefacts from Southeast Asia.

Director of Thailand museum indicted in US probe into smuggled antiquities
The Star, 13 May 2008

Asian antiquities expert arrested
OC Register, 12 May 2008
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Interview with an underwater archaeologist

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30 July 2007 (New Straits Times) – It looks like it’s another artifact sale in Malaysia, from remnants of shipwrecks in Malaysian waters. These artefacts are left over from archaeological salvage and come from a variety of shipwrecks. I’ll be headed up to KL this weekend, and so I hope to write about the sale there.

New Straits Times, 30 Jul 2007

Klang Valley Streets: Treasures from the deep

TREASURES from the deep go on display and sale in Kuala Lumpur this week at an art fair that showcases an array of Asia’s treasures from the 11th to 19th centuries.

And the man who spent 17 years plumbing the depths of Southeast Asian waters, discovering 10 major shipwrecks, is marine archaeologist Sten Sjostrand.

Sjostrand is proud of his underwater feats and retrieval of precious artifacts: he will have these remarkable pieces showcased at the Asia Art Fair 2007, also an exhibition comprising Asian collectibles and treasures, which opens at the Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur, tomorrow.

The pieces retrieved from the shipwrecks may not be the most aesthetically pleasing in a conventional way or most colourful, but they are definitely timeless treasures that are intriguing and mysterious. Historical artwork has been carved and fired on to these items ranging from ceramics, pottery, ornaments, accoutrements to utensils.
They were found on the shipwrecks from the Tanjung Simpang (the years of 960-1127), Turiang (1370), Nanyang (1380), Longquan (1400), Royal Nanhai (1460), Xuande (1540), Singtai (1550), Wanli (1625), Anantes (1795)and Desaru (1830).

Most of these pieces were the objects of trade between China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. However, it’s the Wanli shipwreck that will be the main feature because of the familiar designs of 17th century Chinese porcelain artwork. It signified the time when European merchants were involved with Asia’s maritime trade and were supplying their domestic markets with Asian products.

Read more about the Malaysian shipwrecks artefact sale.

For books relating to Southeast Asian Shipwrecks and trade ceramics, look up:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown

Ceramics expert to give lecture in South-East Asian Ceramics Society meeting

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14 July 2007 (The Star) – Noted ceramics expert Dr. Roxanna Brown from the South-East Asian Ceramics Museum in Bangkok will give a lecture about Shipwreck Ceramics and the Fall of Malacca on Saturday’s meeting if the West Malaysian chapter of the South-East Asian Ceramics Society. The article also outlines how ceramic finds from shipwrecks have helped us understand key points in ancient Southeast Asia’s history.

The Star, 14 July 2007

Reading shipwreck ceramics

Ancient shipwrecks with Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese ceramics are important in that they can tell us how maritime trade in South-East Asia had an impact on kingdoms like Sirivijaya, Angkor, Ayutthaya and Malacca.

According to Bangkok-based South-East Asian Ceramics Museums director, Dr Roxanna Brown, the ceramics offer an insight into how the maritime trade enriched these centres of development.

Based on the types of ceramics found, as well as excavation sites, a chronological order of trading activities, empire development, and even the building of temples like Angkor and Borobudur can be verified, said Dr Brown who will be delivering a lecture on Shipwreck Ceramics and the Fall of Malacca at the 31st annual general meeting of the South-East Asian Ceramics Society, West Malaysia Chapter on July 21 at Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Roxanna Brown’s lecture will be held from 2pm-6pm at Galeri 2, Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur. Registration: 1.30pm. The lecture is open to the public with a donation of RM30 to the society. Participants are allowed to bring a relevant antique ceramic each for identification. For details, e-mail:

Read more about Dr Roxanna Brown.

Books about Southeast Asian ceramics and shipwrecks:
Thai Ceramic Art by J. D. van Oenen and N. Guerin
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification by R. M. Brown
Oriental trade ceramics in Southeast Asia, 10th to 16th century: Selected from Australian collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Bodor Collection by J. Guy
Southeast Asian Ceramics: Ninth through Seventeenth Centuries by D. F. Frasche

Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures

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12 July 2007 (New Straits Times) – Lucien de Guise, curator of the Malaysian Museum of Islamic Arts, writes a column about the sale of shipwreck treasures in Malaysia.

Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures

JUST in case anyone thought that the last discussion about fakes was the end of the series, it was actually the beginning.
My email inbox is once again filling up with opportunities to detect the bad boys in a ceramics collection.

A short time after Peter Lam came from Hong Kong at the request of the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society to talk about “Detecting the Fakes”, we now have Roxanna Brown of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum of Bangkok giving her expertise on ceramic dates. In addition, there is Sten Sjostrand on the subject of “How to Identify Real Antiques from Fakes”.

It’s no wonder Malaysia is so interested in fakes. The nation is Public Enemy Number One in the all-round piracy league table, after China of course. On a per-capita basis, Malaysia is a clear winner.

It seems that the word “fake” has an irresistible attraction. If the talks were called “Kiln Technology of the 16th Century”, the turnout would be comparatively small. Issue a proper challenge, such as identifying fakes, and the people will beat a path to your lecture hall.
A bigger challenge is getting collectors to take an interest in the things that are being faked, including shipwreck ceramics. Nobody has tried harder than Sten Sjostrand. Facing the angry seas, he has recovered countless sunken cargoes and the barnacles that come with them. He has lectured endlessly on the subject, staged exhibitions and recently co-written a book.

Taking things to another level, Sten has introduced a subliminal message. Sharp-eyed visitors to Aquaria at KLCC will notice that there is more to look at than the fish. There are fragments of old Chinese ceramics littering the floors of the Aquaria tanks.

There can’t be many fish tanks in the world that use genuine shipwreck parts from half a millennium ago. Malaysia is the last place you would expect to find anything so authentic. Some of the fish may look like they are dead or clockwork, but the bits of broken pottery are the real thing. They are also for sale, or at least some closely related items are. You don’t need to be so sharp-eyed to spot the stall selling these wares on your way out.

Read the full editorial, Missing the boat on shipwreck treasures.

Books about shipwrecks and ancient maritime trade in Southeast Asia:
Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells
Oriental trade ceramics in Southeast Asia, 10th to 16th century: Selected from Australian collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Bodor Collection by J. Guy