Each year, the Sydney Asian Art Series gathers leading international voices on critical issues in early, modern and contemporary Asian art.

The 2018 series tracked the theme “Uncertain Objects: Trajectories of Asian Art.”


Winnie Wong | Associate Professor of Rhetoric and the History of Art, University of California, Berkeley
Until You See the Original Again: Lam Qua, Chinese Export Artist

More about Winnie Wong’s lecture here.

Ajay Sinha | Professor of Art History, Asian Studies, and Film Studies, Mount Holyoke College
Transcultural Attractions: Photographs of an Indian Dancer
29 May 2018

Watch Ajay Sinha’s lecture here.


Timon Screech | Professor of the History of Art at the University of London
The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: Art in the First English Encounters with Japan, 1611-1616.
23 August, 2018

Watch Timon Screech’s lecture online here.

Nancy Um | Professor and Department Chair of Art History at Binghamton University
Boxes Fit for Kings: Aromatic Gifts around the Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Indian Ocean

Listen to Nancy Um’s lecture online here.


About the 2018 Series

We often think of artists and artworks as having stable identities: produced by a named artist, in a particular place, for a particular patron or market. These beliefs then shape what we think we know, or could know, about objects, their subjects and creators. Yet the historical reality of art is far messier, and far more exciting; objects, artists, and ideas moved across national and cultural boundaries, created between and from multiple cultures. The 2018 Sydney Asian Art Series, Uncertain Objects: Trajectories of Asian Art explored examples of such movement and multiplicity from across Asia and the world.

In semester one Professor Winnie Wong questioned the legacy of “Lam Qua,” one of the most well-documented artisans working in the port of Guangzhou in the early 19th century. Was he an early exemplar of modern art in China, or a mere copyist of European pictures? In her lecture Until You See the Original Again: Lam Qua, Chinese Export Artist, professor Wong explores the fascinating corpus of paintings—including both originals and copies- left by the Lam Qua.

Professor Ajay Sinha addressed the 2018 theme with his lecture Transcultural Attractions: Photographs of an Indian Dancer.  In the Spring of 1938, an Indian dancer, Ram Gopal, posed in a variety of fantastical costumes for the American photographer, Carl Van Vechten, in New York City. Sinha’s lecture will discuss the resulting series of 100 remarkable, large-size photographs, to build an illustrated story of mutual fascination and transcultural exchanges triggered by the camera placed between the dancer and the photographer during the photoshoot.

The program for Semester Two began with Professor Timon Screech’s lecture, The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: Art in the First English Encounters with Japan, 1611-1616. In 1611, the East India Company in London planned a voyage to Japan, hoping finally to read that rich and fabled land. An appropriate gift was selected for the Japanese ruler, and when one of the ships duly arrived in 1613, Tokugawa Ieyasu was presented with a large, silver-gilt telescope, in the name of King James. It was the first telescope ever to leave Europe and the first built as a presentation object. Before news of this success was reported home, the English sent another ship, this time loaded with oil painting and prints. Screech’s talk will investigate the reasons for the Company’s interest in Japan, for the selection of these unexpected items, and for their impact in Japan.

On 18 October, Professor Nancy Um joined us for the fourth and final talk of the year with her lecture entitled Boxes Fit for Kings: Aromatic Gifts around the Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Indian Ocean. Gilded glass bottles blown in India and porcelain flasks produced in Japan circulated around the Indian Ocean, filled with aromatic oils and packaged in custom-made boxes. These fragrant items were doled out as gifts by the Dutch East India Company, distributed to gain commercial leverage with high-profile recipients across an arena that stretched from the mountains of Ethiopia to the Qing Emperor’s court. This lecture follows these intriguing items from their diverse places of manufacture to their points of distribution and demonstrates their strategic power as bestowals.

Presented by

The Sydney Asian Art Series is presented by the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, The Power Institute, and VisAsia, with support from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Ideas.

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