The Malay world extends in an arc from southern Thailand, through the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and on to Java, Sulawesi and the southern Philippines. This archipelago has been the most easterly frontier of Islam for the past 500 years.
For centuries, Southeast Asia was part of the greatest trading route the world had ever seen, surpassing the Silk Road for quantity and variety. It was a meeting place for different Asian empires, as well as the new trading powers that emerged from the West Central to these global influences was Islam, guiding a culture of restrained opulence, which, like the Islamic art of China, is only now being explored by art historians.
Natural forms abound in the Islamic art of Southeast Asia. Subjects such as stylised plants, fruits and clouds are found in a wide variety of media. On Islamic arts, these are often taken to a degree of abstraction that puts them in the realm of pure geometry.
Parallel with this is the use of calligraphy, to give an even more visible expression of religious belief. An art of Southeast Asia which receives less attention than textiles is Qur’anic manuscripts. These are immediately identifiable by their vegetal scrolls, trailing tendrils and other floral motifs, showing once again the regional debt to nature.
Metalworkers of the highest ability were involved in the production of weapons that ranged in size from ladies’ daggers of miniscule proportions to massive throwing spears. Most venerated of all is the keris. These daggers with a distinctively wavy blade symbolise the warrior spirit of Southeast Asia.