Introduction to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia subregion is made of the East Indies countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Timor Leste, Philippines and IndoChina countries: Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. And as the name suggested the cultural and craft development of this subregion can be traced back to Indian and Chinese cultures through Hinduism and Buddhism. Though art and crafts’ symbols, patterns and stories are heavily influenced by the two early religions, there is also a deep-rooted indigenous culture based on animism, particularly in Indonesia. Some Middle Eastern (Islam) and Western influences came later part of the cultural evolution giving flavours to the aesthetic part of the art and crafts.

Due to geographic position, climate and rich natural resources, the Southeast Asian traditional crafts are known for its woven textiles and natural fibres, metalworks, wood and stone carvings and ceramics. The traditional techniques and skills are passed down from generation to generation for centuries. The most known indigenous craft technique from Southeast Asia is Indonesian Batik and wood and stone carvings, but there are many others crafts skills which benefitted from the outside influences.

The Southeast textile and natural fibre crafts are mostly done by women as part of family heritage or community activities. Whereas the metal, wooden, stone and ceramic crafts are done by men as part of religious ceremonies or for trade.

Overall, Southeast Asian art and craft are known for its nature-based, colour rich and intricate details. Until now craft is such an important and integrated part of people’s lives in Southeast Asia. From traditional ceremonies, heritage heirloom to day-to-day wear, home decoration and source of family income.

Fransiska Thomas Lembong
Vice-President, World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific, Southeast Asia sub-region

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