The Politics of Javanese Book Art and Illuminated Manuscript Production

The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series

About the Seminar

Although illuminations are not uncommon for Javanese paper manuscripts, the art of book decoration flourished at the courts of Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, especially in the 19th century. Elaborate frames, known in Javanese as wadana (lit. “face”), mark many junctures in the texts. They not only have a decorative function but also contain highly suggestive symbols that are not always easy to decode. These illuminations provide an insight into the complexities of Javanese court culture, the politics of representation and meaning-making, and the interconnectedness to wider sphere of influences beyond Southeast Asia.

This seminar examines examples of manuscripts from the 19th-century Court of Yogyakarta, held in the National Library of Singapore (donation of Farish A. Noor), and discusses the politics of representation and meaning-making in producing these illuminated manuscripts. Particular attention will be paid to a beautiful and bulky copy of the Sĕrat Menak which is a Javanese rendition of a well-known Islamic narrative about the adventures of Hamza, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, also known as Sīrat al-amīr Ḥamza al-Bahlawan (Arabic) and Hamzanama or Dastan-e Amir Hamza (Persian). This story, which originated from the Middle East, provides a fine example of local adaptation with specifically Javanese enhancements. Collectively, the script and its decorations is a window into the cultural politics of Javanese court culture.

This seminar is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

About the Speaker

Edwin P. Wieringa is Professor of Indonesian Philology with special reference to Islamic cultures at the University of Cologne. From October 2019-March 2020 he was George Lyndon Hicks Fellow for Southeast Asia collections at the National Library of Singapore. His special interests are literary and religious practices in traditional and modern insular Southeast Asia about which he has published widely.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 20 March 2020.


Mar 23 2020


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2