10 November 2005 - 29 January 2006
Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation in Southeast Asia is a spectacular visual exploration of the Islamic heritage of Australia’s nearest neighbours. As the first major international exhibition to focus on the Islamic art of Southeast Asia, Crescent Moon introduces Australian audiences to the beauty and complexity of Islamic culture within our region. Southeast Asian creative genius found expression in a wide variety of media, including metalwork, manuscript illumination, textiles and wood carving.
The exhibition reveals the unique developments in the arts of Islamic Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as the Muslim communities of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam. Splendid objects in silk, gold, lacquer, porcelain and stone illustrate the transformations of indigenous motifs and techniques into dynamic new art forms expressing the message of the Prophet Mohammad. The carefully selected works of art demonstrate how ideas and images from the Middle East, Central Asia and Mughal India have interacted over centuries with local beliefs and ancient traditions.
From the religion’s first arrival in Southeast Asia almost 800 years ago in ships carrying Muslim traders from the Arab world, India and China, Islam has been embraced enthusiastically by royal courts and rural communities across the region. In an innovative overview of the interchange between these cultural traditions, sumptuous gold heirloom jewellery and regalia from the royal sultanates of the archipelago are exhibited alongside Aboriginal bark paintings from Arnhem Land depicting the Muslim sailors who reached Australia long before Europeans landed on these shores.
Participation in a dynamic maritime culture, stretching from the Middle East to south China, ensured that artists of Islamic Southeast Asia were exposed to a wide range of decorative styles and forms. In particular, Crescent Moon celebrates the diversity of Islamic designs arriving in Southeast Asia on the winds of foreign trade and cultural exchange: centuries-old richly-dyed Indian textiles and elegant Chinese ceramics and cloisonné have long been prized throughout Southeast Asia.
The exhibition reveals the sophistication and splendour of the Islamic courts in the archipelago. Royal heirlooms recall a glorious past when wealthy courts, enriched by the spice trade, competed to demonstrate divine blessings through earthly power and material luxury. Lavish ceremonies of the life cycle, such as circumcisions, weddings and funerals, were testimonies of faith and power when displays of fine gold and silver royal regalia and invincible weapons of state, encrusted in precious stones, dazzled the audience.
The exhibition also illustrates the contribution of Islam to the arts of Southeast Asia. The written word - the embodiment of the Divine in Islam and the illustration of the holy Qur'an - has everywhere been fundamental to Islamic art and Southeast Asia was no exception: Crescent Moon displays more than twenty Indonesian and Malaysian gold-illuminated manuscripts, including a rare Qur’an from Aceh. Islamic calligraphy is also shown on fine textiles and costume, ornate architectural details, and in panels of composite Arabic letters depicting birds and animals.
Crescent Moon brings together a hundred valuable loans from museums, palace treasuries and private collections of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, displayed alongside objects from Australian institutions, in particular textiles from the National Gallery of Australia’s spectacular collection of Southeast Asian textiles, and Islamic ceramics from the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation in Southeast Asia is curated by James Bennett, Curator of Asian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition opens in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia in November 2005 and then moves to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra where it opens in March 2006. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated full-colour catalogue with texts by renowned Australian and international scholars.