Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia


Study and search the collections from the perspective of region or place of production

Introduction to Place

In its narrow sense, "place" here refers to the specific location of a ceramic production site. More broadly, it invites a consideration of the placement of that site and its potters and wares within a dynamic world of production, distribution, consumption, and influence.

The sense of "ceramic place" has been constrained and distorted by an emphasis on the modern political boundaries that enclose or exclude, either creating loosely defined groups that had little or no relationship to one another culturally, geographically, or historically, or separating components of a group that lay on two sides of a modern border. An effort has been made here to present places in terms of their actual relationships and interactions.

As an alternative to borders, geography in its broadest sense—each production site's network of connections to terrains, rivers, roads, markets, and centers of population as well as an awareness of the outer limits of that network—supplies a more useful framework for thinking about ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia. Diverse populations within such a network had varying requirements for ceramics. Especially with regard to stoneware, the impact of the presence of communities of overseas Chinese merchants-looking for goods to exchange-has been little explored.

Although the "places" presented here are known for their production of ceramics, they never operated in isolation. It is also important to think of the entire range of ceramic alternatives—local earthenware, local stoneware, regional or imported ceramics—as well as the availability of vessels made of other materials (such as metal, wood, lacquer, or bamboo) when considering the role of a particular ceramic ware in its time and place.

Another impediment to thinking about "ceramic places" is the tendency to treat what is known at present as the totality of what once was there. Recent proactive research in the region has demonstrated that a kiln site can lie hidden in plain view until someone who knows what they are looking for happens to come across it. Kiln sites are still in the process of being identified ("discovered"), assessed, and documented by excavation and ethnographic study. The challenge is to create a sufficient narrative while allowing for the presence and impact of places not yet known.