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Reclining figure of Vishnu, Champa Kingdom, Viet Nam, 9th century-10th century, stone, 15.5 x 30.0 x 6.5 cm. Gift of James de Siun 1990, 243.1990.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (C) Art Gallery of NewSouth Wales, Sydney

The kingdom of Champa occupied part of what is now central and south Vietnam from the sixth century. Successive waves of invaders - Chinese, Javanese and Vietnamese - destroyed much of the land over which the Champa kingdom held suzerainty until the kingdom itself was eventually destroyed in 1471. In its early phases the kingdom of Champa produced some of the most original art of the region, a unique synthesis of the great traditions of India, China, Indonesia and the Khmers. The sculptor of this classic example of Cham art created a gracefully contained figure which in its minimal decoration, softly rounded forms and distinctive handling of facial features, epitomises the Cham style. The reclining figure is the Hindu god Vishnu, identified by his mitre headdress. It is probably part of a high relief which in its entirety would have depicted Vishnu lying on the serpent Ananta - symbolising the waters of the universe - and the god Brahma, emanating from a protrusion on Vishnu's navel. According to Hindu mythology, when the universe is destroyed at the end of each great time-cycle, Vishnu floats upon the ocean before the new universe starts. Such images, generally showing a lotus rising from the waters or Vishnu's navel, with Brahma on the top of it organising the new universe, were especially popular in South-East Asia. Much Cham art is small in scale. There seems to have been no tradition of large, profusely decorated temples as in India and Cambodia. Art was a royal privilege with temples built mostly on a modest scale for private use.

'Asian Art', AGNSW Collections, 1994, pg. 185

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Seated figure of Shiva seated on a raised pedestal with a Nandi bull carved in relief on the front, Champa Kingdom, Viet Nam, 9th century-10th centurystone, 90.0 x 42.0 x 35.0 cm. Purchased 2002, 279.2002.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (C) Art Gallery of NewSouth Wales, Sydney

This elegant and stately figure of the Hindu god Shiva, a major god of the Hindu trinity, reflects the importance of the Indian influence in Southeast Asia. It reveals the extent to which trade mobilised ideas and shaped cultures in Southeast Asia, bringing new influences into the region. The founders of the Cham dynasty brought together an already Indianised culture and adopted Shiva as the patron deity and emblem of their people. Shiva was revered as the founder and protector of Champa, the primacy of this god being established by one of the earliest Cham rulers, Bhadravarman I at the important religious centre of My Son.

This sculpture of a seated Shiva from My Son, dating to around the 9th or 10th century, represents a high point of Cham art and culture, and represents the resurgence of Shaivism as the primary religion of Champa after a period of Buddhist dominance. This elegant sculpture depicts the powerful god in a relaxed yet stately posture, seated cross-legged on a stepped pedestal, with his vehicle, the bull Nandi kneeling before him. His broad, squarish face is crowned by a three-tiered 'jata' (chignon) which helps to date the sculpture stylistically. Other ornaments include an elaborate neckpiece, armbands and the Brahamin's sacred thread in the form of a 'naga' cord worn across his chest. This sculpture is a particularly elegant example of the diverse influences that have informed the development of Cham art, the distinctive moustachioed face and the regal bearing of the deity being suggestive of the hieratic figures produced by the Khmer culture. However, the relaxed, slightly fleshy softness of the deity's body and his distinctive seated posture reveals the kinship of Cham sculpture to Javanese forms. Yet despite these recognisable influences this sculpture is wholly unique and represents Cham art at its zenith: the figure being balanced in form and proportion, the deity appearing naturalistic yet noble. This sculpture is an exceptional example of Cham art.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, October 2002

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Bodhisattva with jewellery and headdress, Champa Kingdom, Viet Nam, 10th century, stone, 15.6 x 7.0 cm. Purchased 1996, 550.1996.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (C) Art Gallery of NewSouth Wales, Sydney

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Vessel in the form of an elephant and riders, Champa Kingdom, Viet Nam, 13th century-14th century, bronze, 21.0 x 16.5 x 9.5 cm. Goldie Sternberg Southeast Asian Art Purchase Fund 1998, 93.1998.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (C) Art Gallery of NewSouth Wales, Sydney

There was probably once a vast repertoire of zoomorphic bronze utensils such as this, but because of the Chams' turbulent history, surviving examples are rare. The Chams used elephants in battles and ceremonies, and also supplied elephants to the Chinese for imperial processions. This sharply observed piece demonstrates once again the use of bronze prototypes for ceramic traditions; the subject is popular as a ceramic form throughout mainland Southeast Asia.

The Asian Collections, AGNSW, 2003, pg.298

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Cham bell, Viet Nam, bronze, 14.0 x 11.0 cm. Gift of Rena Briand 2008, 195.2008.  Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (C) Art Gallery of NewSouth Wales, Sydney