Self and Other: Portraits from Asia and Europe

This travelling exhibition is about how people in Asian and European countries have visualised themselves and each other from earliest times up to the present. Its purpose is to promote better mutual understanding among peoples by exposing stereotypes which Asians and Europeans have had and still have about each other and about themselves. The challenge has been to achieve this with a light touch – to delight and entertain exhibition visitors instead of being didactic.


Portraits to promote understanding


To organise an Asia-Europe travelling exhibition that will promote mutual understanding and respect between people in Asian and European nations.


This exhibition was conceived and developed by a team of curators from 18 countries working to clear leadership, purpose and design. Representatives from the 18 museums participated by either being members of the project team, were hosting venues or supplied content for the exhibition. The two leading partners were the British Museum and the National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku), Osaka, Japan.

Why portraits?  Because most show faces and the face is a window onto someone’s status or soul; in this sense, a portrait can be thought of as a surrogate person.

Portraits express common yet evolving human concerns about the place and role of society in the individual and of the individual in society. But how this is done varies greatly – and interestingly – from one period or country to another.

This travelling exhibition project has already a significant track-record of bringing colleagues together in productive teamwork. It has been developed from an initial meeting in Leiden (April 2002), followed by others, where possible alternating between Asia and Europe, in Shanghai (September 2003), London (January 2004), Singapore (March 2004), Lisbon (June 2004), Osaka (October 2004), Lisbon (March 2005), London (July 2005) and Stockholm (January 2006).

In September 2008, the exhbition Self and Other: Portraits from Asia and Europe opened at the Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan. The exhibition then travelled to several venues in Asia and Europe is the result of several years of work of a very dedicated team. In 2008-9, five Japanese venues hosted the touring exhibition, Self and Other: Portraits from Asia and Europe. Breaking visitor records, it initiated a lively interdisciplinary dialogue. 
Like other objects, portraits acts as agents of those who create or use them. Some represent their subject’s role or status; others, their personal appearence. Drawing on the rich traditions of the two continents, the exhibition poses questions about the origin and function of portraits in Asia and Europe.

On January 21st 2010, a new show opened to the public at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Titled Posing Questions: Being & Image in Asia & Europe, this three month exhibition was the first and only U.K. exhibition venue. Using an interdisciplinary approach like the Japanese exhibition, and thought-provoking images from several time periods, Posing Questions highlights key issues in the social significance of portraiture itself.

From 20 May 2011 to 15 July 2011, an exhibition titled BISA-Potent Presences was opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The Philippines versionof Self and Others was curated by Patrick D Flores Ph D, eminent international curator and art critic, and director of the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines. The Philippine version is based on the  Filipino word for potency, efficacy, charm, enchantment, specter, and prowess that is linked up with talismanic culture as well as cognate to the Bahasa Melayu word for ability, the possibility of doing.

View of Bisa exhibition in Manila

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