Seeing The 'Foreigner' In The Art Of Early Southeast Asia c.100 BCE – c.900 CE

Ben Wreyford
The millennium between c.100 BCE and c.900 CE saw the growth of long-distance economic and cultural exchange both within and beyond Southeast Asia, processes which contributed to the development of early states and precipitated cultural changes through encounters with Indian and Sinitic cultures. Increasing numbers of people were travelling long distances along established trade routes into, within, through and out of the region, and for many different reasons. Visual representations of people
more » ... laimed to be 'foreigners' in the art of this period have been identified in several cultural contexts, but have mostly received only cursory mention, often with a simple assertion of their identity. However, they are significant as locally-produced representations because, appropriately interpreted, they may offer new insights into intercultural interactions that have in large part been reconstructed from non- Southeast Asian textual sources and via studies of stylistic relationships and archaeological exotica. This thesis seeks to develop a methodology for the informed interpretation of such images that incorporates an appreciation of the cognitive processes behind the perception and representation of difference, otherness and foreignness in ancient art, in part by drawing on interpretive discussions of this kind of visual material elsewhere in the ancient world. Additional considerations pertinent to Southeast Asian engagement with non-local iconographic traditions are included. The resulting methodology is discussed further in three case studies where figures have been claimed to represent 'foreigners' to highlight the subjectivities, subtleties and sources involved in interpretation. Two of these have geographical foci, in pre- Angkorian Cambodia and Dvāravatī culture in Central Thailand, and one has a thematic focus, being an apparent association with early representations of horses in the region. In each case, significant new insights result from the attention paid to these figures and their interpretation, showing t [...]
doi:10.25501/soas.00034885 fatcat:6ydh7k6w7rhhvbqfyzwmaykndi