The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

The Arts of Southeast Asia: Distinctive Identities in a Cosmopolitan World

The geographic term Southeast Asia is relatively new. In the 1800s, French colonial powers called the region Indochina—essentially a land beyond India and before China. It was one of many attempts to classify a vast area that for thousands of years has operated as a center of maritime trade and a home to remarkably diverse civilizations and cultures.

This gallery offers a glimpse onto the emergence of distinctive aesthetic identities of the region, from Ban Chiang (3000 BCE–400 CE) ceramics and monumental Hindu and Buddhist sculpture of the Khmer Empire (802–1437 CE), to Indonesian textiles and works created up to the present day. Absorbing influences from neighbors near and far, the arts of Southeast Asia express a ceaseless innovation and a unique invention of form.

Thailand
Ceremonial vessel in the form of a Water Buffalo, 1000–300 BCE, earthenware with impressed designs
The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund, the Helen Jones Fund for Asian Art, and the Suzanne S. Roberts Fund for Asian Art  2000.204.1

The Southeast Asian Diaspora in Minnesota

Minnesota is home to the third-largest Southeast Asian American population in the United States. These communities include Hmong, Karen, Khmer, Khmu, Lao, Iu-Mien, Tai Dam, and Vietnamese Americans.

2020 marks an important milestone for many Southeast Asian Americans; for many communities, it is the 45th anniversary of their first migration to the United States. In 1975, after years of U.S. occupation during the Vietnam-American War and the Secret War in Laos, as well as the Cambodian campaign, countries in the region fell to communist regimes. Hundreds of thousands of people became the targets of political persecution, violence, and genocide. Forced to flee their homelands, they often made dangerous escapes across borders, eventually to resettle in the United States.

The communities of the Southeast Asian diaspora have become an integral part of the social, political, and economic fabric of the United States. In the Twin Cities, as throughout the country, Southeast Asian artists, writers, and performers continue to make a significant impact on our cultural landscape.

Explore Virtually: Gallery 213

Explore the Artworks in this Gallery

Explore 3D Objects

Kendi, 1st century BCE

Terminal in the form of Garuda

Ceremonial vessel in the form of a water buffalo

This extraordinary ceremonial vessel, one of a group, was discovered in the Lopburi–Pa Sak basin in central Thailand. The oldest settlements in this region date back over 3,000 years and have yielded several important Neolithic objects.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Elephant-shaped jar, 13th century

Vietnamese bottle vase (Yu-hu chun), late 15th century

The inspiration for Vietnamese blue-and-white wares derived from China. The Vietnamese potters were more than mere copyists, however; they developed a wide range of decorative motifs, including peonies, lotuses, birds, flowers, animals, fish, and even landscapes.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Ganesha, 10th-11th century

One of the most popular of all Hindu deities, Ganesha is the elephant-headed god. He is the destroyer of obstacles and regarded as auspicious. Hindus invoke his help at the beginning of any enterprise, from weddings to the opening of a new business.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Buddha head, 8th century

This image of Buddha Shakyamuni conforms closely to the classic style evolved by the early Dvaravati sculptors. The face is square, mouth wide, nose flat, and hair curls large and snail shaped.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Deified King, late 10th century

This sandstone image of a deified king relates stylistically to sculpture found at ancient temple complexes like those at My Son and Dong Duong, south of Da Nang in Vietnam’s central highlands.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Two Thai earthenware jars, c 1000 BCE

Thai jar, c 1000 BCE

Thai jar, c. 1000 BCE

Naga-enthroned Buddha, 12th-13th century

This small bronze represents a transcendent Buddha, who is seated on the coils of a seven-headed snake. Under Jayavarman VII (1181-1218), tantric Buddhism became the state religion, as opposed to a form of Buddhism that stressed the historical events in the Buddha’s life.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Ewer and cover, 13th-14th century

Ewers for wine, water, and tea made with bulbous bodies and short molded spouts were common during the Ly and Tran dynasties. Celadons of various colors were popular during this time.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Head of the Buddha, 12th-13th century

Ewers for wine, water, and tea made with bulbous bodies and short molded spouts were common during the Ly and Tran dynasties. Celadons of various colors were popular during this time.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Thai seated Buddha, 10th century

Lime jar in the form of an elephant, c. 1230

Ewers for wine, water, and tea made with bulbous bodies and short molded spouts were common during the Ly and Tran dynasties. Celadons of various colors were popular during this time.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Avalokiteshvara head, 12th century

Kalong vase with fish, 14th-16th century

The northern Thai kilns at Kalong were first discovered in 1933, yielding evidence of some 200 kilns producing high-fired porcelain wares for domestic consumption between the 1300s and 1500s, during the height of the Lan Na kingdom.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D

Guardian lion, late 12th-13th century

Vishnu on Garuda, 12th-13th century

In Hinduism, Vishnu is the preserver and maintainer of the established order. Whereas Shiva is Lord of the Beginning and of the End, Vishnu is the deity who oversees the middle ground, avoids extremes, and maintains orthodoxy.

Learn More

Explore the Object in 3D