A lot of us have been lucky enough to travel to Europe, visit its many cathedrals and see frescoes dedicated to Christianity. However, we never really explored how Christianity is expressed in Asian Art.
Asian Civilisation Museum’s Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendour is an exhibit that gathers some of the most unique pieces of Christian art from Asia. This is an exploration into how Asia made the religion its own; with amazing pieces from India, China, Japan, and all across Southeast Asia.
I had the good fortune to take a guided tour with the co-curator of this exhibition, Clement Oon, to learn the backstory of some of these amazing pieces. The influences and variations of the religion made for great insight into how different civilisations accepted, dealt with and lived with religion, often with a tolerance we cannot find today.
Take this piece, from the Tang Dynasty, for example. This was instruction from the Emperor, allowing all Christians (mostly traders from other lands) to practice and live their religions.
I also came across pieces like this painting of the Virgin and Child with John the Baptist, painted by Muhammad Zaman in 1682-83. This was actually a piece of export art, created in Iran during a time when its openness allowed for its predominantly Muslim artist population to create freely. They interacted with Europeans who travelled to Iran, and were influenced by European techniques, which they then blended into their own work.
I really liked the intricate detailing on this piece. Yes, this is a giant Candlestick holder created in 1248-1249 in Syria, by Dawud ibn Salama al-Mawsili. This beautiful piece has 16 inlaid metal objects decorated with Christian subjects or motifs. Interestingly, this piece was most likely created during the Muslim Ayyubid Dynasty, which ruled Egypt, Syria and the Palestine.
In case you’re wondering, this is indeed a figurine of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, but with a twist to the look. The quickly identifiable look of the Goddess of mercy would be familiar to many of us here. This is just one of the many pieces that apply unique Asian influences to traditional Christian pieces.
The great thing about this exhibition is that you don’t need to be religious to enjoy it. The exhibition is well organised, with explanatory text clearly laid out for all attendees. There’s also a companion app that is consistently updated with new content. It’s actually pretty cool because depending on which part of the exhibit you’re in, the app will send you location-based notifications to give you more information of the pieces you’re looking at.
Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendour exhibition runs from 27 May to 11 September 2016 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Admission charges apply for this special exhibition, but here’s a hack: If you drop by on Fridays, between 7 – 9pm, you’ll get 50% off the price of admission. Alternatively, there’s also free admission 6 to 10 July, and 6 to 10 August 2016!