This thesis takes a new look at the art of ancient Champa. Breaking away from traditional studies, it looks at the art not in its ancient Cham context, but rather through its present and recent past contexts.
The study asks “What exactly is Cham art?” To answer this, I examine not only the artworks, but also the museums and exhibitions, the display and classification. After an introduction explaining the background to the research, Chapter 2 contrasts two statues of Ganesh in French museums, tracing their biographies and questioning what constitutes Cham art. In Chapter 3, I examine the architectural line-drawings of Henri Parmentier, which have represented Ancient Champa visually for over a century, revealing the complex temporality within which they mediate between the present and multiple pasts. Chapter 4 looks at the history of the Danang Cham Sculpture Museum through the choices and decisions of the men who have shaped Cham art into what it is today.
In Chapter 5 I investigate how Cham art was displayed in a series of exhibitions in museums and a department store basement in the United States, Paris and Brussels, while Chapter 6 is a study of a major Cham exhibition at the Musée Guimet, examining its narrative threads and historical and colonial interconnections and its implications for Cham art history. I conclude that Cham art is much more than just the physical traces of the Cham past. It is the preserving, displacing, labelling, copying, interpreting and displaying of the art that makes it what it is just as much as its original functions. I suggest, therefore, that the field of Cham art studies as we understand and view it today is actually something of our own invention, a largely 20th century construct. We do not yet know, therefore, what the Ancient Cham art of the future will be.