York Islamic Art Circle
Seals have functioned as symbols of authority from the earliest days of Islam. According to tradition, when the Prophet Muhammad wanted to write to the Byzantine emperor in 628, he was told that the letter would only be read if it bore a seal. He therefore had a seal ring made of silver, carved with the words Muhammad rasul Allah, ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of God’. Ever since, in Islamic seals the inscription has taken centre stage, unlike European seals which are primarily pictorial. And it is this focus on writing, in the sacred Arabic script, which links seals from all parts of the Islamic world, from Morocco to Melaka, and from Tehran to Ternate.
Over two thousand Malay seals, defined as seals from Southeast Asia with inscriptions in Arabic script, are catalogued and described in the recently-published Malay Seals from the Islamic World of Southeast Asia (Singapore: NUS Press, 2019). These seals originate from the present-day territories of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia, and the southern parts of Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, and date from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries. This talk will focus on the artistic aspects of Malay seals, highlighting both deeply-entrenched indigenous aesthetic preferences, as well as tracing influences from the great Islamic empires to the west.
Annabel Teh Gallop
Dr Annabel teh Gallop is the head curator for Indonesian and Malay in the department of South and Southeast Asia at the British Library. She is also an editorial board member of the journal 'Indonesia and the Malay World', based at SOAS, University of London. Her main research interests are in Malay manuscripts, letters, documents and seals, and the book arts of Islamic Southeast Asia. She is also interested in the manuscript culture of Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Her PhD dissertation (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2002) was entitled "Malay seal inscriptions: a study in Islamic epigraphy from Southeast Asia".