Southeast Asia in Ruins: Art and Empire in the Early 19th Century

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Finalist: ICAS Humanities Book Prize 2017

By Sarah Tiffin

British artists and commentators in the late 18th and early 19th century encoded the twin aspirations of progress and power in images and descriptions of Southeast Asia’s ruined Hindu and Buddhist candis, pagodas, wats and monuments. To the British eye, images of the remains of past civilisations allowed, indeed stimulated, philosophical meditations on the rise and decline of entire empires. Ruins were witnesses to the fall, humbling and disturbingly prophetic, and so revealing more about British attitudes than they do about Southeast Asia’s cultural remains. This important study of a highly appealing but relatively neglected body of work adds multiple dimensions to the history of art and image production in Britain of the period, showing how the anxieties of empire were embedded within landscape paintings and prints.

“Southeast Asia in Ruins makes an important contribution to intellectual history and the history of art. Handsomely illustrated with prints and drawings, it will be essential reading for political historians, art and cultural historians.” - - Partha Mitter, Arts Asiatiques

“This immaculately written book, together with the excellently chosen illustrations, integrates early British visual culture regarding Southeast Asia with an important discussion of the relationships between European imperialism and art history.”  - John Crowley, Professor Emeritus, Dalhousie University

Southeast Asia in Ruins is a valuable and impressive addition to scholarship on British art. Richly diverse source materials are deftly deployed in an elegant, insightful and highly readable narrative that has the very great merit of focussing attention on these beautiful but all too frequently overlooked images.” - Tony Ellwood, Director, National Gallery of Victoria

"[Sarah Tiffin] enumerates the importance of Raffles’ text during a period of history when colonialism was justified through art and its interpretation ... For students of history, looking to understand colonial description of art, especially the work of Stamford Raffles, this book provides detailed insight." - Ankita Mukhopadhyay, The Jakarta Post

"For people interested in learning more about how colonisers in the West produced knowledge about South-East Asia in order to subdue, tame, and rule over it, as well as those interested in cultural criticism and art history, Southeast Asia In Ruins will like provide many hours of interesting reading." - Subashini Navaratnam, The Star

Sarah Tiffin was formerly Curator of Asian Art at the Queensland Art Gallery. She is the author of Sparse Shadows, Flying Pearls: A Japanese Screen Revealed.

Publication Year: 2016
316 pages, 235mm x 187mm
82 illustrations in colour
ISBN: 978-9971-69-849-2

NUS Press and Royal Asiatic Society (UK)