Introduction

Southeast Asia comprises the area of the modern day countries of Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos. This region is among the most important in the world for trade and commerce: these nations sat at the crossroads of civilizations, between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and East Asia. As a result of their importance to trade, Southeast Asia is a cultural melting pot, and its art shows the influence of many cultures, religions, and styles as a result.

Angkor Wat Photo from 1866
"Angkor Wat". Photo by Emile Gsell, 1866. Wikimedia Commons.

History

From the first millennium B.C., this region was greatly influenced by the art and culture of India. Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and their associated arts became widespread in Southeast Asia. Thus, statues of Hindu deities and the Buddha became popular, and were adapted to local customs and ideas. Great Hindu and Buddhist empires and kingdoms arose in this area, including the Khmer Empire (the builders of Angkor Wat) in Cambodia, The Srivijaya Kingdom on the Indonesia island of Sumatra, the Central Javanese Kingdom on the Indonesian island of Java, and the Kingdoms of Thailand. The Hindu and Buddhist religions are still foremost in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. The islands of Indonesia (with the exception of Bali) and much of the Malay peninsula (modern day Malaysia) became Muslim in 16th century and beyond. As a result, Islamic art has had an influence on the arts of Southeast Asia as well. The Balinese are still overwhelmingly Hindu, and the arts found before the Muslim conquests of the islands are still practiced there.

Finally, beginning in the 16th century, Europeans began to colonize Southeast Asia. While Southeast Asian countries have reasserted their independence, Western culture and art has had an effect on the arts of Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian artists utilize Western styles and ideas with Southeast Asian techniques and vice versa.

Balinese Wood Coin Sculptures
Balinese Figures. Wood and Chinese Coins. Ca. late 19th - early 20th Cent.

Southeast Asian Art at Auction

Nest Egg Auctions has handled and sold many examples of Southeast Asian art. These include bronze and wooden statues, wood carvings, and even traditional kris swords. Balinese carvings and statues are popular at auctions, such as two figures with bodies made of Chinese coins which we sold in 2020 and three wood carvings we sold in 2017. These pieces show the incredible detail and artistry that Southeast Asian artists put into their work. We can see the influence of various cultures that have crossed through Indonesia and Bali in each of these works.

Thai Buddhist Art

Interestingly, Nest Egg Auctions has sold a few Thai bronze statues of the Buddha in particular, and these works sell quite well in the marketplace. Two 19th century Buddha heads, made in the earlier Sukhothai style, are among the finest examples of Southeast Asian art we have sold. In addition, a small statuette of the Buddha we sold shows him seated on a throne, with many flames on him. This piece shows the rich and ancient artistic tradition of Thailand in a small yet fascinating figurine.

Thai Buddha Statuette
Thai Buddha Statuette. Cast Metal. Ca. 19th century.
Thai Buddha Heads
Two Thai Buddha Heads. Bronze. Ca. 19th century (14th cent. Sukhothai style).

Selling Southeast Asian Art with Nest Egg Auctions

If you have a work of Southeast Asian art, Nest Egg Auctions would love to see it! Please send us a picture of your work, and we would be happy to discuss it with you.