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Department of Asia

Contact details

Phone: +44 (0)20 7323 8416

Department of Asia
The British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG

The Department of Asia covers the material and visual cultures of Asia.

This is a vast area covering central, east, south and southeast Asia, and Siberia.

The collection has been enriched by Buddhist paintings from the Dunhuang caves in Central Asia and the Admonitions of the Court Instructress painting, plus one of the best collections of Chinese ceramics in the world.

Our South Asian collections include the celebrated limestone Buddhist reliefs from Amaravati, our extensive Korean collection highlights a number of ornamental works of celadon as well as Goryeo lacquer and metalwork.

The Museum's Japanese collection includes an outstanding range of early Japanese antiquities and later paintings, prints and decorative arts.

The Southeast Asian collections are extraordinarily rich, covering the numerous cultures of the region. The objects range from Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, coins, lacquer, and Thai banner paintings to the material culture of the Dayak people on Borneo and exquisite Javanese theatrical objects.

Accessing the collection

History of the collection

18th century

The British Museum's founding collection, formed by Sir Hans Sloane in the 18th century, contained a number of objects from Asia. These were acquired as contemporary items at the time, a collection policy which continues to the present. 

1866–1896

Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, Keeper of the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities from 1866–1896, inspired great interest in Asian cultures, using his influence and connections to swell the collection.

1880

In 1880, the India Museum, which had been home to collections of the East India Company, was closed and its exhibits dispersed. Some archaeological objects and sculptures, such as the Amaravati collection, were transferred to the British Museum.

1933

In 1933 the Department of Oriental Antiquities was created. The first Keeper was Basil Gray, a scholar of Chinese, Islamic and Indian art.

2003–2005

In 2003 it was renamed the Department of Asia and in 2005 the remaining Ethnography collections from Asia, more than 20,000 items, joined the department.

Now

Today, the department has an active programme of contemporary collecting in all parts of Asia. Like all departments at the British Museum, the Department of Asia follows UNESCO guidelines for new acquisitions.

Staff

  • Mica Benjamin-Mannix – Administrator
  • Jiyi Rhy – Curator, Korean Collections
  • Tim Clark  – Honorary Research Fellow
  • Alexandra Green – Henry Ginsburg Curator for Southeast Asia
  • Alfred Haft – JTI Project Curator, Japanese Collections
  • Jessica Harrison-Hall – Curator: Chinese Ceramics and Vietnam
  • Sushma Jansari – Tabor Foundation Curator: Early South Asia
  • Yu-Ping Luk Basil Gray Curator: Chinese Paintings Prints and Central Asia
  • Carol Michaelson -– Project Curator: Chinese Collections, Jade
  • Jane Portal – Keeper of Asia with speciality in China and Korea
  • Imma Ramos – Curator: South Asia
  • Elka Smith – Senior Administrator: ERC Research Project
  • Mei Xin Wang – Resource Specialist: China
  • Michael Willis – Principal Investigator: ERC Research Project
  • Akiko Yano – Mitsubishi Corporation Curator: Japanese Collections

The work of the department is supported by a team of Collections Managers and administrative staff.