Foreign Devils, Benign Monsters: Westerners (and Other Foreigners) in Thai Buddhist Cosmographies
Peleggi, Maurizio - National University of Singapore

2011-10-22 11:00:00
Ann Arbor, MI - University of Michigan - Museum of Art Stern Auditorium
Duration: 01:09:47

Images of Europeans, as well as Middle Easterners and Chinese, appear frequently in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Thai illuminated manuscripts and temple murals. Their representation is not surprising in view of the establishment of communities of foreign traders in Thailand’s royal capital since the 1600s. But more than the standard iconography of these figures of the Other, it is the context in which they appear— Buddhist cosmographies and narratives—that calls for examination. For what reason are Dutch and English sailors depicted navigating the cosmic ocean, and French and Arab horsemen riding in the army of Mara, the Buddha’s enemy? This talk proposes that in a visual culture whose raison d’étre was the propagation of Buddhist ethical precepts and metaphysical tenets, the representation of strangers, while reflecting the historical realities of early-modern world encounters, partook of a cultural strategy of naturalization, and hence neutralization, of these “human Others” as an unthreatening presence in the Thai universe.

Faculty Respondent: Susan Siegfried, Professor of the History of Art and Women's Studies, Professor of History of Art and Professor of Women's Studies, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, U-M


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