Upacara: Ceremonial art from Southeast Asia

Upacara is a captivating showcase of ceremonial art of Southeast Asia from the collection of Dr John Yu AC and the late Dr George Soutter AM. Featuring basketry, textiles, ceramics and objects in bronze, wood, terracotta and silver, this exhibition highlights the interconnected nature of art traditions across the region and the unparalleled virtuosity and stylistic variety of functional everyday and ritual objects. Collected by John Yu and George Soutter, this exhibition follows the Encounters with Bali (2014) which featured a spectacular selection of Indonesian textiles from the same collection.

Upacara revisits these textiles, now part of the Mosman Art Gallery permanent collection, alongside a wider selection of ceremonial and functional objects from across Southeast Asia, which speak to Dr Yu’s interest in the ancient trade routes and connections of the region. Though Indonesia has been an important place for collecting, these objects spill over the boundaries of the modern Southeast Asian nation states we know today. The island archipelago was the crossroads of a trade route between India and China, centred around the Sri Wijaya kingdom in southeastern Sumatra, a confederation of trading ports and a world centre of Buddhist studies, which controlled the Straits of Malacca from the 7th century.

The title Upacara is an Indic loan word [Sanskrit उपचार/upacāra] in Indonesian, meaning ceremony or ritual. It also refers to objects of regalia and thus describes many of the objects in this exhibition, some of which were used by rulers and sovereigns to denote rank and status. The religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, which had spread throughout Southeast Asia by the 7th century, and the ceremonial objects, sculptures and monuments produced to perform these religions are still very much esteemed today despite the subsequent conversion of many communities to Islam. 

Image: Installation view, Upacara: Ceremonial art from Southeast Asia, 2021. Photo by Tim Connolly