Gumring Hkangda

Thick provenance: interactions between European and local collecting practices refracted through the lens of the mainland Southeast Asia material at the British Museum

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

In dealing with artefacts from mainland Southeast Asia now in the British Museum, the project is a critical and comparative history of the region in the 19th-20th centuries.

Start Date: October 2015
End Date: September 2018
Theme: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding
Research discipline: Archaeology, Anthropology, Museum studies
Locations: Southeast Asia
Staff member: Alexandra Green
Department: Department of Asia
University and department: Department of History of Art and Archaeology, SOAS
University supervisor: Ashley Thompson

What are the mainland Southeast Asia ethnographic materials at the British Museum?

Textiles and objects of daily use come from the wide panoply of communities which are not confined by national borders

How can the Museum build its better understanding of cultural objects?

By seeking to understand the encounters between the collectors and ‘locals’ at the time of collection, and interpret the varied ‘interactions’ and ‘accommodations’

Is there a way to define cultural festivals and celebrations in Southeast Asian context?

As sites which often bring together local and non-local people and which often had a material culture element of particular interest to non-local collectors


About my research

There have been numerous studies of collecting practices in Europe and its colonies, but the focus is generally on the Europeans’ interests, opportunities, and collecting methods.

This project will produce an innovative, thicker understanding of provenance by considering the multifarious dimensions of local and European practices of object ownership and exchange. The fieldwork particularly will contribute to this understanding by providing essential Southeast Asian perspectives. The project will therefore result in nuanced database entries that do not obscure essential ethnic and regional associations.


Aims of my research

The main aim of the proposed research project is to investigate the art and history of the mainland Southeast Asian collections at the British Museum, and Europe’s engagement with Southeast Asia, through the highland ethnographic materials.

In considering the important role that cultural objects play in societies of the region whilst also addressing the presence of ‘cultures’ that transcend nation state borders, the research aims to explore communities in mainland Southeast Asia through their local aesthetic practices and their interactions with European collectors in the 19th to 20th century. Researching on the making and meaning of the mainland Southeast Asian collections, this research will adopt interdisciplinary approaches to explore and interpret a range of cultural activities and artefacts from the region to interrogate past and present social relations.